Obviously if you want to make a living from writing you always need to submit your most polished work. Regardless of whether you’re sending it to an editor that you have a longstanding relationship with or a brand new corporate client, you don’t want it to come back covered in red pen.
But while an editor will have a lot of experience helping writers shape their work, copywriting clients often don’t – they’re hiring you to get the words right – so you need to develop the ability to cast an editor’s keen eye over your own work.
There are a few tricks and tips that I use to help with this, and I’m sharing them with you below.
1. Print your work out.
I’m showing my age here, but it’s not so very long since I really struggled to type anything directly into the page. At university when I had an essay due I would hand write my notes, hand write a first draft, type up the first draft, and then – instead of editing it on the computer – I would lay all the pages out on my bedroom floor and get busy with scissors, glue sticks and highlighter pens. Eventually I’d take that messy bundle of paper scraps back to the computer lab and type up a final version.
Thankfully I’ve come a long way since then, but I still like to print out a final draft of every piece of work I do. Irrespective of whether it’s a 150-word review or a 30 page academic document, I find it the most effective way to make one last detailed check of my work.
2. Read it out loud.
Here’s where working from home is a big help – no colleagues to raise an eyebrow at me if I walk around the house muttering to myself. In seriousness, taking the time to read your words out loud can help you pick up on mistakes like incorrect or duplicate words, but it can also help identify clunky sentences and overused phrases.
During a recent work project, I used the same word 4 times in 3 sentences, and only noticed it when I read a page out loud for the first time. Once you spot a mistake like that you wonder how on earth you could have let it slip by!
3. Swap your work with another writer.
Obviously, this is one to be careful of if there are confidentiality issues around your work projects, but taking the time to swap documents with another writer can be hugely valuable. I’ve never done it with my copywriting, but I’ve often send first drafts of essays and features to friends and fellow writers and have regularly done the same for them in retrun.
If you’re a member of an online writing community, like some of the ones I recommend in this blog post about useful sites for Australian writers, it’s usually pretty easy to find someone willing to offer their perspective (because let’s face it – writers are fundamentally nosy people and love the opportunity for a stickybeak at someone else’s work!). A second reader will often find mistakes that you’ve missed.
4. Change fonts.
Sounds like a strange suggestion I know, but this is one I picked up from a fellow writer a few years back (thanks @samvanzweden!) and it really, really works.
Once you’re close to a final draft, converting the text into a different font helps you see it with fresh eyes – it often changes the spacing and sentence breaks a little – and makes it more likely that you’ll pick up on errors. Don’t go for anything too whacky – you still want to be able to read it with ease, so Wingdings is probably out – but play around until you find something you like and see if it makes a difference.
(Just remember to change it back to something professional afterwards!)
5. Work somewhere different.
This tip is one that is borne out of necessity for me because with just four hours maximum at my computer each day I often end up doing some work in the car at the school gates, or sitting by the edge of the pool while my son has a swimming lesson.
The unexpected bonus of working in strange places is that changes to the external environment seem to stimulate different parts of my brain, so if I do the majority of my actual writing work at home, I can sometimes find that my best editing takes place elsewhere.
Every freelancer has their own happy working spot. For some it’s a home office, for others it’s a café or a co-working space. If you’ve got a document to edit then perhaps switch it up and try somewhere new.
6. Watch out for your superfluous and overused words.
We all have them! Those unnecessary words that we somehow just can’t seem to stop ourselves from slipping into every piece of work.
(I remember reading over several months of old blog posts on my personal blog a few years back and being horrified by the number of posts which involved me ‘sipping Chardonnay’… although perhaps that says more about my lifestyle choices than my writing!)
You probably can’t stop yourself from overusing a few words or phrases entirely. But if you’re aware of what they are then at least when you go back and edit you can remove or replace them.
There are a number of helpful blog posts out there with suggestions of words to drop from your writing – really, very, that – but it’s probably most helpful to read over your work and identify your own.
Do you have any other tips for editing your own work? If so then I’d love to hear them – leave me a comment below!