Editing your own writing is always a challenge because, well, you wrote it.
It’s hard to separate ourselves from something we’ve put time, energy, and effort into.
A lot of writers struggle with this step and can get emotional when they receive feedback, or they assume their first draft was perfect so they don’t need to edit it.
Since you’re here, I’m going to assume you don’t fall into either of those camps—or you want to get out of them—and you want to become a better editor.
So let’s see what steps you need to take to edit your writing and ensure it’s the best piece it can be.
Get some emotional distance
You can’t edit anything you’ve written unless you’re objective about it. This is why emotional distance is important.
The longer you take between writing and editing your piece, the more you’ll be able to analyse it like a reader or editor. This objectivity is key to growing your editing skills and being able to edit your own writing.
I would never, ever advise writing and editing in the same day. This applies to the same piece and different ones.
The only exception to this is if you have several years of experience under your belt and can easily switch between logical and creative.
Writing and editing are different skills. One’s creative, one’s analytical. They use different parts of the brain.
When you’re new to one or both of them, it’s really hard for your brain to switch from one to the other. It’s much more effective if you take at least a few days to switch modes.
I drafted four books over the Christmas/New Year period of 2020/2021, and that allowed me to write 5,000 words a day on my latest book, Hollywood Destiny.
But when I first started writing again, after months of editing, I could barely write 500 words a day. My brain had been in editing mode so long it found it hard to get back into the freedom and creativity of writing mode.
This switch is more pronounced for longer-form content like books, but the rule still applies for shorter pieces, too.
The shorter the piece, the less time you can leave between switching from writing to editing it, but the more emotional distance you can give yourself, the more you’ll notice when you start editing.
Study, study, study
You may think you know your industry, topic, or target audience, but there’s always something new you can learn.
Take the time between your writing and editing to do some more studying.
Is there something else you could add to your piece to make it more powerful? To show you really know what you’re talking about?
Also, look at how others (especially your competitors) have written about similar topics. What kind of language do they use? Who do they reference? How much engagement do they get?
The more research you can do, the clearer the picture you’ll have in your head about what you’re writing about, and the more you’ll be able to edit like an editor.
I’ll say it again because it’s important: objectivity only comes from emotional distance.
It doesn’t matter how attached you are to your work in progress, you’ll always have some level of emotional attachment to what you’ve written because you spent your time and energy on it. It will feel like less of a big deal the more time you’ve left between each stage.
So, when you’re ready to be objective, what do you need to consider?
1. Does anything need explaining in more detail?
Remember: there’s no such thing as too much detail!
Readers will skim over, or skip, the bits they already know or that they feel aren’t relevant to them.
Including background information and explaining things in detail helps those who don’t understand something, or who are new to it. It also demonstrates to search engines that you’re providing value.
Search engines love longer content because it’s a sign you’re going super deep into the topic and readers can find everything they need to know about a topic from that one post.
There’s really no downside to publishing longer content, other than how long it takes to create. (Which is the beauty of outsourcing your content marketing!)
2. Does everything tie back into the title?
Are you including superfluous details that don’t tie back into your title?
Noticing this one can be a real challenge, especially if there’s a section that’s interesting/fun (so you’re more attached to it) but isn’t relevant.
This is the only skill essay writing taught us that’s useful in content writing, too.
Everything within your post should relate to your title/topic. If it doesn’t, save it in a different document or folder (some people even name these files/folders as things like ‘dumping ground’ or ‘car park’) and use what you’ve cut out as inspiration for something else.
All blog posts should focus on helping your audience with one problem that they could be facing. If they try to cover too much, it’s time to get out the scissors ✂️
There are several reasons for this:
- It’s easier to get your message across if you’re focused on one thing
- If you jump around from one topic to another, it confuses the reader
- Jumping around also breaks trust, as you’re not focused on proving you’re capable of answering that one question your audience has
For instance, if you’re talking about anxiety, while you could mention it often goes hand-in-hand with depression, going too deep into the symptoms of depression isn’t relevant. If you’re writing about the relationship between anxiety and depression, then it would be.
3. Have you used too much jargon, or too many big words?
Could you simplify your language anywhere?
This will make your content must easier to understand for busy people who want a solution to your problem, but don’t have a lot of time/energy to process what you have to say.
Even super smart people will appreciate that their brains don’t have to work as hard to understand something.
Plain English makes people’s lives easier while educating and/or entertaining them. And, while it uses simple language, it’s actually a lot harder to write.
Ever tried to write a children’s book?
That’s the reading age you’re aiming for—the average reading age is nine. It’s even lower for certain red-topped British tabloids.
Writing in clear language also ensures you lure in the right people and exclude those who are the wrong fit from the start. The sooner you can do this, the better your conversions will be because everyone will know if you’re the right person to help them.
4. How does it compare to your competition?
Are there pieces longer?
Do they explain more? Less?
The more you do to stand out against your competition, the more attractive your post will be to your audience, and the more likely you are to rank higher in search engines.
If you haven’t already, this is where you need to consider your SEO. Ideally, you need to write your content around your keyword, but if you haven’t, or if you’re unsure of it, now is the time to bring it in.
5. Does your voice come through?
An engaging voice will keep readers reading. A boring voice will send them to sleep.
Lean into a voice your audience will enjoy, not one that you learnt to use at school for essay writing.
Many of us write don’t think too hard about the language we use on Slack or Teams, meaning our voices come through as clearly as when we speak…
…But as soon as our brain hears the words ‘write a blog post‘, it panics, assumes the content needs to be super formal, and switches into Essay Writing Mode.
But it really, really doesn’t.
Do you enjoy reading essays?
Are you a teacher or other form of academic?
If you answered no to the two questions above, and you know your target audience would also answer no, then you need to aim for a more casual style. Think contractions, plain English, short paragraphs, and basically anything else that breaks the rules of grammar and would make your English teacher cry.
Just like writing, editing is a skill. Unlike writing, it’s based in logic and objectivity.
To self-edit to the best of your ability, you need to give yourself some time between the writing and editing processes. This allows you to form emotional distance from your writing and makes it easier for you to switch from writing to editing mode.
The more you write and edit—and switch between the two—the faster you’ll be able to switch from one to the other, and back again. But, like every new skill, it takes time to build that ability.