I *almost* wanted to call this article about editing your copy “you’re a better writer than you think.” BUT I figured despite my vote of confidence, there’s someone out there who isn’t a better writer than she thinks. So, by default, just know you likely have my fist-bump injection of confidence. 😉
While I was speaking at the Creative at Heart conference, Katie Grace H. came up to me with a problem I’m starting to realize prevails in our industry. “Ashlyn, I went straight into my full-time photography,” she said. “And I’ll be honest, I get nervous about putting my writing out there—the last English classes I took were in high-school!”
Oh girl, you’re not alone. So many incredible creative entrepreneurs lunge straight into the industry before finishing up English 102 at a collegiate level or having red editing marks tear apart their senior thesis on “Women as Portrayed in Civil War-Era Media & Journalistic Publications” … just me? 😉 #nerdalert
So today, let’s talk editing your copy. How can you elevate your blogs, email newsletters, client magazines, and more to be dazzling and pristine, without hiring it out to a copywriter?
- Why it’s your fault if the reader’s confused—and how to fix it before it’s a problem.
- The role playing questions I always ask myself.
- The free app I lean on to proof most everything I write.
- 2 things I always do during fact-checking.
And I totally know that reading editing articles is basically like pinning those how-to homemade essential oil cleaner articles: fun to read, not to do. So, I made you a freebie checklist about editing your copy below: get 50 self-editing checklist questions to ask before you hit publish on your website! 👇🏼
1. First Pass: Clarity & Clutter
This pass of editing your copy focuses on content. “If the reader is lost, it’s usually because the writer hasn’t been careful enough,” writer William Zissner said. Chyup.
So many creatives blog for blog’s sake, but honestly, what are you trying to do here?
What’s your GOAL with what you just wrote?Clear thinking becomes clear writing. Click To Tweet
Since it’s impossible for the muddy thinker to write good Englis, this is the phase where you swiftly cut sections of your draft if they don’t benefit your reader (Super married to them? Cool. Just paste ’em in some Google doc for later.).
My 3 best tips here?
- Re-read with fresh eyes. Sleep on your words at least one night, and come back to them the next day. Always. Write your blogs or email newsletters before you have to publish them. It’s amazing what you’ll see with fresh eyes. Take it from the girl that learned that the hard way writing content on the Delta Air Lines account in marketing agency world—always back your “deadline” up one day.
- Pamper your reader. Role play, and put yourself in your ideal reader’s shoes. Will she *get* everything in here? Will this resonate with her? What can you add to make it so? Are you connecting with her? Did you assume she knows something she doesn’t? Can you simplify it for her?
- Kill your darlings. In other words, release attachment and get out of ego-land. Channel your inner Miranda Priestly and make it easier to read. Use bullets. Rearrange sentences. Delete tangents. Punctuate with numbers. Employ images. Scatter in icons. Import graphics. Chop up with photos. What can you do so your writing is a delight to consume, like a magazine?
2. Second Pass: Proofing
Now, take more of a proofreading pass. Editing your copy like a proofreader is NOT like reading your copy regularly. Personally, I zone a bit during this pass, and I’m more focused on grammar here.
There’s an infamous copyediting quote that “Pubic relations is very different from public relations.” 😜 Note that spell check doesn’t catch everything.
My 3 best tips in this pass of editing your copy?
- Read from the bottom line up. That way, it’s all jumbled and out of order, and you get to quickly see if you’ve left out a word, repeated a word, or even just chosen the wrong word. It’s helpful to do this with a iPad stylus, so you can tap each word as you go on the screen.
- Install Grammar.ly—my hands-down-favorite free plug-in. Essentially, it’s spell-check on steroids, and you’ll halt most problems before they start. Here’s a quick video I made showing you how to do that.
3. Finally, read it aloud. Nothing’s quite so ruthless, and you’ll hear rhythm here. “The good writer of prose must be part poet, always listening to what he writes,” Zissner said. Does your writing sound good? If you want some poetic devices that are pretty easy to sprinkle into your copy, click here to grab some ideas and download your cheatsheet.
Care to print out your blog, client mag, or email? Oh, I knew I liked you. I’m a fan of printing to proof, too! Print your work—whether it’s a client magazine or a digital download shop item—and edit with a red pen when you have the time. Or … just pay a nominal fee on Fiverr or Upwork.
3. Third pass for voice and style.
Now here’s where you get to go all Perrier instead of Deer Park water: let’s vary your word choice and fine-tune your language. Channel your inner artist. Whip out your thesaurus. How can you add interest when editing your copy?
My 3 best tips in this pass?
- Check your word bank. My Copywriting for Creatives students know my word banking hacks, but basically, you want to start a file of words and phrases from books, articles, sermons, podcasts, and more—think creating a collage à la your middle school locker, but with words instead of the cast of The O.C. I look to that and pepper in the good stuff.
- Review in Preview mode. For some reason, when I print something or look at it in preview mode (or even just hit publish and look at on another screen), it’s like I’m an outsider. I can adjudicate my work when I read my blog post actually ON my blog. This is also the BFF Test—if Wes would think I’m a tool for saying something a certain way, I probably am … and am thus changing it.
- Thesaurus yo’self. Non-writer tip, but look for words ending in “-ly” … can you change them up for a stronger (thesaurus.com used) word?
- She cried softly. :: She sniffled.
- He barked loudly. :: He bellowed.
- We talked aimlessly. :: We jabbered.
4. Fourth pass for fact-checking.
At Southern Living before the crash of 2009, we had a whole area of the floor relegated to the copy editors, an army of AP Stylebook and Google-wielding precisionists that didn’t let a single mistake (hardly) pass them.
Basically, now’s the time to make sure no one’s going to send you hate mail for missing something you *should* know.
Here are my 2 tips for this pass (Yup, just 2 here):
- Look up exact names of products. Is it Wal-Mart or WalMart (or Walmart?)? Is it Rising Tide Society or The Rising Tide Society? Are they Do-terra oils, DoTerra oils, or Do-Terra Essential Oils?
- Click every link. We used to do this for Delta Air Lines email marketing—click through eeevvvvvvery link to make sure it drove to the right page. The minute you don’t do this, you’ll send an email to a few thousand people with the wrong link, I promise.
And there you have it: my ultimate guide for quality control in editing your copy!
Craft a thrilling, engaging experience for readers without stumbling blocks along the way, and you’ll build a sustainable work of art in your online content. Imagine if readers could fall down the rabbit hole of your blog posts, binge-read your captions, and get lost in work that could potentially influence their lives—pretty cool, right?
It’s easier said than done, but by establishing your creative business’s work as credible and authoritative, you’ve made a cache of cornerstone content that you can trust to be doing the work for you 24/7! Have a big project coming up and need a checklist? Grab the list of 50 questions to ask yourself before you hit publish on your new website copy, sales page, or any other big project you have going up!