There are writers. And then there are professional writers.
Over my career as a writer and editor, I’ve noticed one key factor that enables writers to perform their craft professionally.
I’ve said it before, so you won’t be surprised to hear:
It’s the ability to self-edit.
A strong self-editor doesn’t just show up to work — they show up with a seemingly counterintuitive balance of compassion and criticism that allows them to write prolifically and precisely.
That combination is exactly what companies and publishers look for when they hire writers.
Self-sufficient writers know they’re going to:
- Choose the wrong words.
- Add distracting tangents.
- Repeat information.
But since they are disciplined, and aware that they make mistakes, they produce more sophisticated content than writers who don’t rigorously examine their own work.
Here are three steps that strengthen your self-editing skills.
Step #1: Form your structure
Readers quickly navigate away from articles that don’t flow smoothly.
However, your first draft is almost certainly going to be a mess that no one other than you will understand.
To tackle this obstacle, assign yourself deadlines for each phase of your writing process.
Plan time to:
- Explore your ideas.
- Shape them into a presentation.
- Fine-tune your message until a reader can effortlessly follow along.
And when you think your final draft is ready to publish, review it one more time.
The “secret sauce” I reveal at the end of this post helps ensure you clearly guide your reader through your content.
Step #2: Encourage a transformation
What will a reader get out of your writing? How will they think or feel differently?
Once you’ve established a solid structure, add details that enrich your writing voice and remove the parts that don’t serve your readers.
Your writing has to be personal, but not self-indulgent.
As you review each sentence, ask yourself:
“Does this text contribute to the transformation my reader wants?”
You’ll establish a connection with your reader faster when you succinctly make your point in a believable way that inspires action.
Step #3: Value accuracy
Content managers and editors want to make writers look great.
They’re less enthused about correcting sloppiness.
When they find factual errors, inconsistencies, and excessive typos, they wish the writer took the time to review their final draft as if it would be published without any further editing.
Use this simple checklist to spot and correct five of the most preventable content mistakes.
- Names: Google the names of people, places, products, and companies to verify they are spelled correctly.
- Days/Dates/Years: Every day of the week should correspond to the correct date and year.
- Times: Start times of events should be double-checked.
- Hyperlinks: Any hyperlinks should go to the intended web pages that enhance your content.
- Templates: If you use a template, don’t leave any sections blank or republish outdated information.
The secret sauce
Proofreading is typically an undervalued (and half-assed) part of the writing process.
It doesn’t feel fun or creative, so it’s treated like an afterthought.
But it’s a mandatory step for self-sufficient writers.
My favorite way to catch mistakes in everything I write and edit is to proofread from the end of a document to the beginning.
You can learn how to implement that technique here.
Be the artist who treats their craft with the utmost thought and care. It leads to better relationships and more opportunities for creative work.
Professional writers know that attention to detail is never a waste of time.
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Reader Comments (8)
Ryan K Biddulph says
Being honest and open were 2 big game changers for me Stefanie. I saw myself more in the light of truth. Being kinda detached from my writing helped me in this regard. Versus seeing my words as my babies I just perceive ’em as a medium through which I have fun and help folks. No pride there; just passion, gratitude for being a pro blogger and also a willingness to see myself as being no big deal. Just someone who taps squares all day long 🙂
Stefanie Flaxman says
Interesting how you regard being humble as a way to see your work clearly and focus on helping your readers, Ryan.
Tapping squares is an art form though! The intention you described above shows it’s not mindless. 🙂
Michael LaRocca says
If the author doesn’t think the writing is important enough to do right, why should I think it’s important enough for me to read?
If an author writes sloppily, I might wonder what else the author does sloppily, such as perhaps the service the writing is trying to sell me. That’s not a good look.
Stefanie Flaxman says
For sure. It’s difficult to recover from a bad first impression. Not impossible, but sloppy writing is a quick way to lose trust.
Jane Rucker says
Yes, you definitely have to be honest with yourself in order to self-edit well. Brutally honest. You have to be able to approach your own writing with the same editing attitude you would use when editing someone else’s work. That’s not the easiest process to learn, but it is well worth the effort.
The same for proofreading. Familiarity with the material because it’s your own makes it that much more difficult to catch all the mistakes that are just always there in everything we write. You’re so right about that first draft being pretty bad! And that can lead to many little errors that annoy the reader to no end if not discovered and fixed.
Another great post! Thanks for sharing!
Stefanie Flaxman says
I love proofreading because it really does put your readers’ experience first. Without errors to distract them, they get to connect with your message faster.
Plus, it’s great when your writing looks effortless, even though we all know how much work it takes to make a piece of writing look effortless. 😉
Tobias Hyldeborg says
I definitely value proofreading high. When I have received several articles from a copywriter I expect that I don’t have to proofread anymore – he should be able to match the content completely to my needs.
Stefanie Flaxman says
Terrific example, Tobias! You want to hire someone who provides a complete package. 🙂
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