This is how you edit your copy like a writer
I saw something the other day that, admittedly, torqued me a little bit. It was a bit of a dig at writers and how they aren’t editors.
True, true, the two are different.
But writers do have to edit their work a lot of the time. Especially those that run their own business and not an agency with a team of editors and proofreaders (and designers and illustrators and marketers and publicists…) cowering outside their office door.
Although…sometimes I feel like I’m having an out-of-body experience because I often fear my inner editor. This isn’t good enough. She’s going to ha-ate this. What the hell was I thinking when I said that?!?!
So, today, I want to break down how to edit your copy like a writer-slash-editor.
Disclaimer: I don’t always follow this process when it comes to my own writing. (I like to freestyle, what can I say.) But always always ALWAYS for clients. Do as I say. Not as I do.
Read the entire thing once (or twice).
The first thing I do when a new piece of copy lands on my dusty, notebook-laden table? Read it.
Before making any edits, I read the entire piece start to finish without making any changes.
Nope, not a waste of time, you watcher of the clock, you.
This initial read-through is where I get a feel for what the piece is about. What the flow is. What the point is. What it feels like as a whole.
Don’t get me wrong—I feel plenty tempted to start making edits right away. Especially when I spot an errant comma or something feels really wonky.
But I silence my inner grammar nazi and just read the damn thing. Objectively.
Start at the very beginning.
It’s a very good place to start…
But for real. I don’t jump in mid-article. I don’t immediately hunt down that comma I’ve been obsessing over ever since I saw its misguided attempt to end a sentence.
I go back to the beginning of the piece and start from the top down.
I read every paragraph again, this time starting to make edits. This first round of edits (uhh, yeah, there’s more than one round…) is usually surface-level stuff. Like grammar and punctuation. Quick fixes for sentences that just need to be tweaked. Paragraph breaks. If I see one more 12-line-long chunk of chonky AF copy, I’ll drown my sorrows in an alcoholic smoothie. Because I’m sure they exist. If not, I’ll invent it with my trusty sidekick, the Vitamix.
The one exception to this approach: If the intro is particularly challenging—like it’s not catching my attention or needs a little zhuzhing—I’ll come back to it. The changes I make to the rest of the copy could totally inform (and transform) the intro.
Ask the big burly questions.
I ask my clients lots of questions. It probably gets annoying. I’m like a child wanting to know how the world works: Why is the sky blue? Why do I have to eat lima beans? Why do ducks poop so much?
Except my questions are more like:
Why do you hate this?
What made you think that?
Why did you do that?
Is this something your clients know or think?
What made you use this example and not something like X, Y, or Z?
It’s not always my job to know these answers. My job is to ask the questions and make my clients think. To help them dig deeper and make their copy stronger.
I’m like a coach. For your copy. Yeah, it’s called a copy coach. And it’s a real thing.
Notice these aren’t questions like: How can we make this better? (Although I have been known to ask, “How can we streamline this?” …and then provide some expert-y suggestions.) These are probing (eww) questions that are 100% designed to pull the thoughts out of your brain and help you translate them to the page.
But if you’re not asking some questions when you’re editing your copy, you might risk having some surface-level ideas that are, you know, fine on the surface, but don’t give people the best of what you have to offer.
Look for places to add more.
Okay, I’m wordy. I know it. And, sure, a lot of the editing process involves taking out those words.
But…it’s also about adding more.
When I’m reviewing a piece of copy, I’ve got my eyes held open with washi tape looking for places where we need another example, where we need a clarification, where we need to explain something further.
So many times ideas aren’t fully fleshed out. The idea is cool and all, but there’s so much more to it than the words that managed to land on the page.
This is especially true when there’s a big, bolder-than head-to-toe (including shoes) pink polka dots statement that’s just begging to be backed up with more. More! MORE!
Clean up the transitions.
A lot of shitty first drafts (said with so much love…) need a little finessing in the transitions. Especially when you’re writing one of those oh-so-popular listicle-type articles or a how-to or anything but a straight-up story kinda post.
Every section needs a beginning, middle, and end—much like any tale. They need to be wrapped up so the next section can start fresh and clean.
And so it makes sense.
Jumping from one idea to the next without any connection or bro nod makes copy hard to read and even harder to follow.
This doesn’t mean you can just slap some “first, second, third, next, then, finally” in your doc and call it a day.
This means you’ve gotta pay attention and make sure there’s a logical progression from one paragraph to the next. Transition words not necessary.
Add something freakin’ fun.
I absolutely can’t—in good conscience—write a post about editing without mentioning one of the main things I do when I edit a piece of copy: Bring in the noise, bring in da spice.
I’m always looking for places where I can add something fun. Something silly. Something snarky. Something pop culture-y. Something LOL, ROFL, excited laughing emoji.
I’ll admit it’s my favorite part of the editing process. Although being all grammar nazi is a very, very close second.
You might miss these opportunities when you’re busting out your shitty first draft. No prob. Your first draft is totally about getting the big ideas down and then fine-tuning the hell outta your words until they purr like a stray cat looking for handouts.
And by fine-tune I mean make it funner. More original. More personality-packed. More you. Please and thank you.
Harness the power of the headline.
Remember earlier, when I said to start at the very beginning?
Your headline is not the very beginning. It’s actually the end. Think of it as the sprinkle of cinnamon on top of your morning matcha latte. The Maldon sea salt on top of your wedge of chocolate fudge.
Even though it’s the first thing people see (and usually what determines whether they’ll deign your article worthy enough to click through to), it should be the last thing you tackle.
Because…what if your article takes a different direction than you thought it would? What if you write something juicier than some cold-pressed kombucha? What if it doesn’t jive with the rest of the content?
You should absolutely have a working title or at least a topic in mind (I mean, that’s pretty basic I think…the first step to overcoming Blank Page Syndrome…) to help guide your work. But don’t get so tied to it that you’re too cool to change it when you get to the editing stage.
The best headlines won’t just materialize in front of you. Unless, of course, you’ve got a swipe file that swoops in to save the day like some hopped up Hercules. (Hercules! Hercules! Hercules!)
So either bust out those go-bys you squirreled away for just such an occasion or spend some time crafting a click-worthy but not clickbait-y headline.
Feel like your copy needs a once-over? Let’s put it through the wringer. The Sales Page Second Look wringer. I’ll use this exact(ish) process to help you make your sales page stronger in 48 hours or less. It’s kind of like a mic drop meets fireworks explosion moment. Make it happen right this way.