(A post for my fellow writers…)
Do your fingers take on a life of their own when it comes to editing?
Last night I woke from a dream, hot-flushed and breathless (no it wasn’t that type of dream). In the dream, I was hacking away at an article I’d written; fiddling paragraphs, altering words, massacring sentences – my writing transformed into a disjointed mishmash of nonsense. Towards the end of the dream I must have registered because I began to claw my way back trying to restore the piece to its former glory. And all I could think was, I’d been so close to finishing, now it’s ruined.
I realise now the dream was trying to tell me something. I can, on occasion (or several), be guilty of over-editing.
The problem is my fingers take on a life of their own. They start tapping away, honing each sentence until I realise I’ve spent hours editing a piece I’m not getting paid enough to write in the first place. It’s not until I take a moment to stretch the back and re-adjust the neck that I realise I’ll never be completely happy with the finished product. But how, as writers, do we know when to stop?
When is enough enough?
“I edit my own stories to death. They eventually run and hide from me.” Jeanne Voelker, Author
Striving for perfection is one thing. Wasting time is another.
Editing is a crucial part of the writing process, but if you’re not careful you can become lost to the original project brief and goals. If you, like me, suffer from editing addiction, there’s one rule to get you out of the revolving door before dizziness sets in.
Follow a process. Define your editing formula.
Every writer works differently. You need to establish rules that work for you. Here’s a few handy tricks I’ve picked up along the way that help me to stay focused:
1. Set time goals.
Egg timer, sand timer, alarm clock – whatever works. Establish what you want to achieve in a set amount of time and commit to it without distraction until your time is up (distraction sabotages productivity).
2. Never edit on the first draft.
This is when you let your imagination run wild. Explore all possibilities and don’t worry about the quality of your writing. Fill that page! The quality comes with each redraft. If you edit prematurely, you could waste time on content that ends up in the scrap bin.
3. On the 2nd draft, turn your focus to structure, meaning and clarity.
Get rid of unnecessary words that weaken the message. Ask yourself:
- Is the piece making sense?
- Can it be simplified?
- Can the words/messages be stronger?
- Will it drive the right response?
- Has important information been left out?
- Is it mind-blowingly captivating?
When every word is doing its job, stop editing. Walk away. If you have time, leave this piece for a few days – you’ll come back to it with a fresh perspective.
4. Involve the client early on in the process.
Save yourself and your client time and energy – there’s no point labouring away on a concept they aren’t happy with.
5. Separate yourself as the author.
Read your work through your audience’s eyes and you’ll be a more critical editor. It’s easy to get caught up admiring your craftsmanship and creativity – but are you delivering what your audience need/want to hear? (This includes fighting the urge to read your work over and over basking in your glory. Besides wasting time, the less familiar you are with your writing, the better editor you’ll be).
6. Edit with the brief in mind.
Keep a clear understanding of what you need your words to do. Are they driving the right reaction? Do they appeal to the target demographic?
7. Use handy tools.
Hemingway Editor, for example, highlights long, complex sentences and common mistakes.
8. Change the type and size of the font after the 3rd draft.
A nifty little method to help view your writing through fresh eyes. Try some whacky font you never use (you can switch it back before sending off to the client).
9. Keep all versions.
This way, you can compare notes and reorganise or combine sentences. You may even find parts of an earlier version work better.
“Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret.” Matthew Arnold, Poet & Literary Critic
Some copywriters are quicker at editing than others, but we all become more efficient with experience. The secret is to be strict with yourself and apply smart editing rules that keep you focused and progress the quality of your work.
If you’re like me, you enjoy editing – that’s half the problem. But if you want to run a successful business you need to make good use of your time. The quicker you reach completion, the more profitable you’ll be – and with happy clients.
So, the day I craft a masterpiece after 3 drafts, I’ll dance naked around my living room!
How about you, have you ever edited a piece of writing to death?