Do you hate to write? Some of the best writers, and many of the worst, say the same.
But don’t worry about that: Writing that gets results — whether an article, email, proposal, or whatever you need, isn’t about your writing. Not really.
Here’s the secret
First you write, but then you edit — Edit to Awesome.
Editing is where the magic happens. It’s where you pick through that ugly, disjointed and unwieldy mess that’s your first draft and find, and build, the brilliance.
Once you learn how, you’ll love writing again — or maybe love it for the first time ever.
I first heard the term Edit to Awesome from Joanna Wiebe, the Canadian plains copywriting wizard at CopyHackers.
Like any good writer/editor, I’ve been Editing to Awesome naturally for years. I’d just never heard it labeled so accurately.
But what exactly do I mean when I say Edit to Awesome? And how do you get there?
Think about it this way. You write the content you need to get the job done. Make sure it answers your prospects’ questions and problems. Then do a journeyman’s edit and proofing to make it clean and readable.
OK, first step complete.
Still looks pretty shabby? Listen to what Hemingway said “The first draft of anything is shit.”
He’s right. So don’t stop after you’ve written that first draft — in fact, you’ve just begun.
Next step: Editing.
And, believe it or not, I’m going to show you how to love this part. Put on your editor hat and become Mr. Wolf, from Pulp Fiction. Editing cleans up your bloody, headless, first draft mess and saves the day.
When you Edit to Awesome, you take that first draft and transform it into polished steel — writing that gets your company, service, or product noticed, reviewed, shared.
What’s the path to awesome?
Think of it like this. It’s a two-step process. You write the blog post, the article, the webpage, email — whatever content you need for the task at hand.
It’s not that difficult when you understand your reader, their questions, problems, and worries. Then write in such a way that they see you understand them. They see how your solution could solve their problems.
But that’s not enough. And that’s where the critical second step, editing, takes over.
Clare Lynch, a Cambridge University writing professor and creator of the excellent writing and editing blog, Doris&Bertie, puts it like this.
“Many people are surprised that I spend only 30% of my time writing but 70% editing.”
That’s editing’s magic, its power, its payoff.
And that’s why you must do it.
If you don’t, it’s like showing up at the club in your finest new Zara threads and an old pair of beat up tennis shoes. It’s half-assed and it shows.
So how do you take a regular piece of writing and muscle it into something that shouts quality and excellence? That grabs eyeballs? That gets the click?
How exactly do you Edit to Awesome?
5 critical steps on the road to awesome
I’ll assume you have the basics — grammar, spelling, and punctuation handled.
Quick aside: don’t overlook your word processor’s spell-check. It cleans up the little mistakes, saving your eyes and focus for the bigger ones.
Those basics handled, you can now move onto the advanced techniques that will rocket your writing into the awesome stratosphere.
1. Make your words flow — like a Botticcelli melody
Remove any bumps that could slow or frustrate your reader.
Here’s why: the social media experts at Buffer claim 55% of readers spend 15 seconds or less on a blog post. Do whatever it takes to keep your post off that 55% list.
A great first place to start:
Stephen King’s not at all shy on these amateurish “ly” endings. He says “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” They weaken your writing, even if they seem to offer an easy way out.
The solution? Sharpen that adverb axe, put on your steel-nibbed red pen, and attack the page. Replace those lazy adverbial bastards with powerful verbs and phrases.
“He presented boringly.” becomes
“His presentation put me to sleep.”
“She hardly impressed anyone.” becomes
“She underwhelmed us all.”
“Routers are completely useless in larger buildings.” becomes
“Routers break down in larger buildings.”
Face it, your writing needs to cover many points, accomplish many objectives, and sweep a large swath. Which means you will need to create smooth segues between points.
Transitions light the reader’s path. Certain words and phrases are the beacons. Consider “on the other hand,” “nevertheless,” “for instance,” or “here’s how.” Using transition slides like these will glide your reader from one point to the next.
“On the other hand, consider the consequences if you don’t
enact these ideas.”
“For instance, many women rely on college friends to introduce them.”
“Nevertheless, what I just said may not apply to you. If it doesn’t,
try plan B.”
2. Keep (most) sentences and paragraphs short
Ever encountered a block of text, maybe half a page long, and moved on because it was all too intimidating?
The content may have been excellent, but the writer didn’t understand the importance of visual crispness and lost their chance.
Copywriting legend Gary Halbert says this: “Paragraphs are almost as important for how they look as what they say; they are maps of intent.”
Recognize the acronym tl:dr? Too long:didn’t read. You’ll see it in some blog comments. It’s the commenter’s admission they skipped much of the post because it was too long.
Don’t let that happen. If you keep your sentence and paragraph length in check, you’ll avoid it.
How do you do that? Cut, cut, cut.
Cut long sentences into two or more. Most run-on sentences run on because you’re cramming too many ideas into one sentence. How can you spot them? One good sign is a sentence with too much punctuation, typically commas or semicolons.
Shorter words and shorter sentences create stronger messages. Remember: awesome editing is reductive, not additive.
Plus this bonus. Using less words forces you to write tighter, with sharper focus.
Another good sentence/paragraph shortening device: bullet lists.
They automatically condense your thoughts and shorten your sentences. Check out British bullet ninja Kevin Carlton’s excellent bullet-list primer here.
A final caveat. Ignore those who say short, clear, and concise writing is “dumbing down” your content. It’s just the opposite.
Microsoft believes so strongly that they included a readability statistics tool in Microsoft Word. It shows you how well you’re doing in creating concise, persuasive writing.
In fact, it has two precise reader comprehension measures: the Flesch Reading Ease and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. These yardsticks gauge your writing and help you adjust to the audience you’re writing for.
3. Lose the jargon
I edit for tech companies and consultants, a mob of jargon junkies. Sometimes jargon’s necessary, even desirable. But often, not.
Unless you’re writing for tech sophisticates, rein it to a minimum. And if you must use an unfamiliar term, explain it in layman’s language.
And acronyms. From AMA to API and ESP to FBO, they’re as rampant as rosaries in Rome. If you’re writing for the in-crowd, carry on. But when your readers aren’t familiar with the acronym, spell it out on first usage.
• AMA (ask me anything)
• API (application programming interface)
• ESP (email service provider)
• FBO (Facebook official)
4. Avoid redundancy and repetition
We all have them: words, phrases, and styles we overuse. It’s normal, but bad for your writing. Spot them (a good editor will do this for you), make a list, and then routinely run a search for them in any new writing you create.
Use the search function, hunt them down, and kill them.
Same with any industry. Each has its overused or repetitive terms and phrases. Try this trick: create a style sheet that lists alternatives for these terms.
And don’t be afraid to learn from the pros. You’ll learn a lot reading some of the top writers in your specialty. If they’re top writers, you can bet they’ve learned to banish repetition and redundancy. Study them.
Here’s a great, little-known resource to find pros in your sector: All My Tweets. Enter a favorite writer’s or company’s Twitter handle, and AMT instantly serves up their latest 3200 tweets. One of my secret tools for research and discovery.
5. Show no mercy to these 3 copy killers
Let’s wrap up with 3 writing mortal sins that deserve special mention — and immediate banishment from your copy.
There is/there are
The worst of the worst. Too easy to spot and correct to let slip through.
Look at these before and afters.
There are five different pies at the buffet.
The buffet serves five different pies.
There are no more seats on the bus.
The bus is full.
There’s no way Joney will get into Cambridge.
Joney doesn’t stand a chance of getting into Cambridge.
Hardly, really, mostly, very
Back to adverbs. These four buggers merit special mention because they’re everywhere. Be merciless in eliminating them.
Remember the solution? Use a strong verb, and you won’t need these word wimps — or just cut them.
I hardly ever see her.
I never see her.
You really need to change.
You need to change.
It’s a very slow train.
The train drags.
I mostly want to rest on vacation.
I want to sleep for days on vacation.
It’s/its; lose/loose; they’re/their; who’s/whose, etc
If any of these common word mix-ups plague you, put them on your special list to check in your final proofread.
One final caution: Even though spell-checkers will bring common misuses to your attention and suggest options, you still need to know which choice to make. Take the time to tackle the ones that haunt you. It will pay dividends for life.
Was that Awesome for You?
If not the first time, keep trying because you can get there. You can make that horrible first draft into writing that turns heads and gets response.
Follow the map from stock standard to Awesome.
Remember Hemingway’s words; don’t pressure yourself to make your first draft sparkle. It won’t and that doesn’t matter.
And you know why.
Because the magic happens when you edit. Great writers know there’s no such thing as good writing — only good re-writing. A fancy way to say editing.
Now go get you some Awesome.