Dear Bloggers: Learn to Self-Edit and Make Your Writing Shine
Michelangelo, on finding a perfect block of marble, would believe that by chiseling away the surplus stone he was merely aiding the sculpture within to be revealed. And just like that, no matter how much you're in love with your words, your first draft is only the rough material for you to get started carving out your art from.
From what I see on a regular basis, reviewing other people’s writing, too many bloggers are not only oblivious to the existence of easy proofreading apps, which should catch the most evident mistakes, they also, to my big surprise, never read what they write once again before hitting publish.
I get it. Writing is extremely difficult to make a living off, and in order to feed the online algorithms, bloggers are forced to churn out one piece after another. Most of us cannot afford to spend half a year on one piece, nor enjoy the luxury of a professional editor at our hand. And yet, if you genuinely enjoy writing — if you don’t, consider refocusing on some other type of media since this will only wear you out — allow it to shine at least a bit brighter through the practice of self-editing.
The digital age with its rapid Whatsapp chats, uneditable tweets, and millions of blog posts published each day made us more forgiving towards the mistakes of others. Which is definitely a good thing. We all make and will continue making them. But we still need to put forth a little effort, especially if we respect our reader, the ultimate arbiter.
Once you finish the first draft, read it out.
This technique never fails. Even the words which look perfect on a screen or on paper often sound quite weird if you say them aloud.
Cut the redundant stuff.
Now that you have listened to your own words, you have a much better idea of where you repeat yourself, ramble, jump around a point, or include irrelevant arguments.
Divide long paragraphs and sentences.
Short paragraphs and short sentences are easier to read and digest. In fact, most internet readers only skim written content, which brings us to the next point.
Add relevant formatting.
Help your readers to navigate through your text with the help of subheadlines or emphasize important bits with bold or italics.
Simplify your language.
Don't riddle your writing with vague buzzwords, meaningless jargon, or empty phrases. Write like you speak: in a human, simple language. If you are in doubt, read the part in question aloud, again, and ask yourself: “Would I ever say this to someone in a direct conversation?” “Or would I tell the same message but in completely different words?”
Give it to someone to read.
It doesn't have to be a professional editor, even though in an ideal world that would be the best option. Simply ask anyone you have at your disposal at the moment and inquire: “Was there something you didn’t understand?”, “Do you get what I'm talking about?”, “Is everything clear?”
Often, you won't agree with them - in the end, your words are your little darlings - but force yourself to go through the mentioned pieces again and, if possible, rephrase for clarity.
Catch mistakes using an app.
Grammarly offers a free Chrome extension that will help you to fix your mistakes not only when you write your emails but also when finalizing your posts in your online editor before publishing. You can also paste your text into their web or desktop app. It's simply a must for quick proofreading.
Other useful tools I personally love:
ProWritingAid — Not only can you use their free editor for checking your grammar, but also for polishing your style.
WordHippo — A wonderful online thesaurus to find the right expressions (they also offer iOS/Android apps).
Wait at least half an hour, preferably a day.
After re-writing and re-reading your blog post for the hundredth time, you're no longer objective and you stop seeing even the most obvious mistakes. Take a break and look at it with fresh eyes.
If possible, print and read with a pen in your hand.
I don't have a printer at home so I don't do this often but when I do, it's tremendously helpful. Reading your text on a screen is definitely not the same as reading it on paper, trust me. Again, you will notice things that you haven't before.
Turn it into a routine.
All the above-mentioned steps seem to take a lot of time, but with practice, you will get the hang of it. Just like you would not go to bed without brushing and flossing your teeth, you won't like to publish a piece without some self-editing.
In the end, you're blogging for a reason. Why not give it your best?