January 13, 2016

17 Insanely Useful Tips to Polish Your First Draft and Master The Art of Self-Editing

wordpress-923188_1280Many writers share a “secret”. Their first drafts are not as pretty as they would like you to think. I’ve heard successful writers say their first drafts are unpublishable and 7-figure bloggers claiming their first draft is weak.

For most bloggers and solopreneurs hiring an editor is too costly. Therefore, it makes sense to master self-editing.

Is it possible? The answer is simple: Yes, it is! As a matter of fact, I’ll set you up on the fast-track to editing your own articles right now….so buckle up, take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.

1. Cut Out Unnecessary Words

Something that almost all copywriters and conversion optimization specialists agree on is that persuasion trumps force, but clarity trumps persuasion. This is why you need to make your writing easy to read.

Try to use about as many words as necessary, but no more. People are usually short on time. They have other things to do. Make it easy for your readers to understand your message, they will thank you for it.

2. Realize You Make Mistakes

Ever heard of positive hallucinations? It’s when you hallucinate something that’s not really there. You see someone down the street, and you recognize them as one of your friends. Phew…you almost waved, could’ve been so awkward!

In the same way, you overlook your own mistakes when it comes to writing. Sometimes we just see what is supposed to be there, even though it’s not. That’s perfectly fine, though…and there’s a way to deal with it.

3. Nap time!

Yep, I’m recommending you to (responsibly) procrastinate.

Why?

Because editing right after writing rarely results in tight editing. You’re just too in love with your own words. Taking some distance helps because we tend to see what’s supposed to be there.

Get some distance and you’ll detect imperfections and holes in your writing. Even critical grammar mistakes will jump out where you didn’t see them before. Of course, we can’t always afford the luxury of time..but at least, take some time away from your writing before reviewing it.

4. Get Rid Of Common Grammar Errors

I admit it. My grammar ain’t always on point. Am I the only one? Nope. Even legendary copywriters like Ben Settle make mistakes. He doesn’t worry about losing sales or people who criticize him for them. *cough* More specifically, he says:

“It’s been my observation that people who pound their chests hardest over typos or refuse to buy anything from an ad or email with bad grammar are almost always anal retentive writers, editors or loser intellectuals who can’t sell their way out of a paper bag, so they make up for it by becoming overly obnoxious spelling nazis”Ben Settle.

But does that mean you shouldn’t care? Of course not. I recommend Henneke Duistermaat for a writer to model. She is strict about getting her grammar on point and writing vividly in the process.

Also, you could scan your article for these 20 grammar mistakes that almost everyone gets wrong.

5. Use Shorter Words

A simple tip for any writer: use a thesaurus and make it a habit to replace long, complex words with shorter ones. For example, the policeman could be the cop. Why would this even matter? It’s simple: short words are easier to process. You don’t want anyone to stumble over your words and risk losing their attention, right?

I quote Chris Goward: “You see, our brains are like computer CPUs. We may think we’re smart, but we have limited processing power and any ‘application’ we run can use it up and reduce our ability to process other applications (e.g. other streams of information)”

The way I see it: shorter words take less brain power, which results into a focused reading experience. This goes for both writing copy and blog posts. Avoid jargon and complicated words.

6. Replace Dull Examples With Strong Metaphors

I once read a book called The Tall Lady With The Iceberg. It was a fantastic introduction to the world of metaphors and how they can benefit you for business. We often try to painfully describe something that could easily be communicated with a strong metaphor.

One of the examples from the book explained the power of a metaphor simply, but beautifully:

Which airline safety instruction would make you stop reading your magazine or book?
A. “Under your seat is a life-jacket. Please remove it if instructed by the crew.”
B. “In the event this flight suddenly becomes a cruise, you’ll find your lifejacket under your seat.”

Which one do your prefer?

7. Contractions ain’t bad!

Putting some personality in your writing never hurt anybody…This is is why contractions aren’t bad. They’re good! It makes someone feel like they’re dealing with a real person. Don’t you agree?

8. Read Your Own Writing Out Loud

No quicker way to find out writing mistakes by reading it out to yourself or others. It is absolutely illuminating. Yes, it might be kind of awkward..but it works and you have to try it at least once!

9. Make It Breathe

Use lots of white space when writing for the web. It’s less intimidating. Do you like seeing big blocks of text? It seems like a chore to get through them. It’s not the amount of words that make it a bad experience. It is the lack of white space.

Be generous with your enter button. You might find your on-page time has increased the next time you check your Google Analytics.

10. Check The Rhythm

Is there any rhythm in your writing? If you only write long dull sentences, reading your article will be a tough nut to crack. But you’re smart, so I know you won’t do that. By simply alternating short and longer sentences, you create a nice rhythm. It’s easy, got it?

11. Print Your Piece

Why is it that we can always give sound advice to someone else’s problems, but we can’t find the solution to our own issues? This is because of a process called dissociation. In editing, it is also important to disassociate from your writing. It’s hard to find errors and cut sentences if we are too involved.

Try it out: print your piece of work out after taking some distance from your writing. Grab a pen, and start slashing every unnecessary word. If you can find grammatical errors, circle them. I am confident you’ll find that printing it out helps you to disassociate and be relentless.

12. Start At The End and Work Backward

.desucof yllaer eb ll’uoy ,gninnigeb eht sdrawot daer dna hpargarap tsal eht ta trats uoy fi :kcirt rehtona s’ereh.

Ehm..you didn’t think I meant backward literally, right? I said; here’s another trick: if you start at the last paragraph and read towards the beginning, you’ll be really focused. You’re most likely going to see what’s “supposed” to be there because you read in a different pattern then you wrote it.

It’s just another way to disassociate and spot your own mistakes. Try it out and let me know how you like it!

13. Use Tools Like Hemingway and Grammarly

Nowadays we have many amazing and cheap tools to our disposal, and I can fully recommend the ones I mention above.

Hemingway is a desktop application that allows you to gauge your readability. If you follow their guidelines, you can’t go wrong. It’s not free, but at $7.99 it’s only a small investment.

Grammarly is an online app, but they also have an insanely useful (and free!) browser extension. Grammarly premium includes more features, checks, and corrections, but it’s worth trying out the free account first.

14. Get Specific

We are painting pictures with our words. You have a lot of influence over when you master the art of writing. But when you write dull and boring sentences, you influence people to do one of these 2 things: doze off, or get distracted.

When you get really specific, you can sell more products because people can “see” it in front of them. This is not only important when writing copy, it’s also important when writing blog posts!

Here is an excellent example from copywriter Drew Eric Whitman out of his fantastic book Ca$hvertising:

DON’T SAY: “People love our authentic Italian food because we prepare it like we do for our own family. Try it, it’s delicious!”

DO SAY: “We make our pasta fresh every morning. We bake our own bread, golden and crusty. Our sauce is made from scratch—never from cans. Everything we serve is homemade, 100 percent natural, and delicious.”

15. Get Feedback

This is one of the few tips I’ll give you that includes the help of others, but it’s thát important. When you publish, you’ll inevitably get feedback on your writing. If you don’t, you can ask some people that are willing to be ruthless and honest.

Even though this is not something you can conveniently do to improve your writing befóre publishing, it will prove to be worth it in the long run. I recommend that you take honest feedback seriously, and take notes.

16. Make Sure You Are Writing To One Reader

Even though your articles, e-mails could reach a big audience, you should always write to just one person. Avoid sentences like: “some of you may…”. You are not teaching in front of a class. It’s much more powerful when you make someone feel like it was personally written to them.

To avoid this, get to know your ideal reader in your mind, and have him or her sit in front you while you write. Think about the things they worry about, what they love, what they hate. You can get as specific as you want. Does she or he wear glasses? What kind of movies do they like?

This is an excellent example of an article from a writer that clearly knows it’s audience.

17. Did You Check Your Facts?

If you state something, make sure that you’re right about it. Check the facts. If possible, provide the source. We do this because we don’t want to give misleading or wrong information. It might take some extra time, but it’ll give you an edge over the competition. Think about it: what if people will start to recognize you for a trustworthy source of information?

Conclusion

Now that you have these tools at your disposal, it’s your turn. Go ahead and make that sloppy first draft into a shining diamond. Nobody will ever see those clumsy mistakes you made, but they were necessary.

Why?

An empty page staring you right in the face is intimidating. You need to get that first word on there, fast. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It won’t be. But if you never start, you’ll never be able to say I love having written.

Did you learn something new or have any other interesting editing tips you want to share? Let me know in the comments because I love to learn from my readers!

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Jasper Oldersom

Hey, I am Jasper and I am an authentic freelance (copy)writer and marketer. If you need time to focus on other parts of your business, while I write a quality article for your website - I'm your guy.

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Adrienne - January 13, 2016 Reply

Hey Jasper,

Well I’m glad I’m not a paid copywriter or a book author. I think for just being a blogger I do okay.

Now when I sit down to write I do it all at one time and that’s start to finish. I rarely read over it again before it goes live unless it was late or I was tired and I wanted to make sure one more time all was well.

I still to this day on an occasion have a grammar mistake. I was even an administrative assistant for over 30 years and I still made mistakes here and there. In that position though I had someone else to read my work but as a blogger I don’t. Thank goodness for good friends who will catch my errors because what I wrote and what I read are usually two different things.

Like most of us though, I could do better. We all can but I think for the most part if you’re pretty spot on with your writing then you’re ahead of the game. There are so many though that still need to go back to the drawing board.

What a great post, thanks for sharing this and pointing a lot of this out for us.

I’ll be sure to share this one as well my friend, awesome job.

Enjoy what’s left of this week, it’s on it’s downhill slide now.

~Adrienne
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    Jasper Oldersom - January 14, 2016 Reply

    Hey Adrienne,

    Trust me, you do more than okay.

    I am surprised to hear that you do it all in one time without editing because you write very well. Your secret is probably writing like you speak. People understand what you have to say. You will never use jargon or try to sound interesting, which is what a lot of companies do.

    Even editors make grammar mistakes, it happens. If I have to choose between spending my time getting my grammar right or getting my message across more effectively I know which one I’m choosing.

    We can all do better and that’s the fun part. Every word you write right now is making you a more experienced writer in the future. I think the same goes for every skill.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and checking out my article Adrienne, I truly appreciate you 🙂 always. I can’t thank you enough for sharing.

    Was good catching up with your earlier this week and I’m half into the webinar replay, you guys do really give away good information on branding!

    We are almost into the weekend so I hope you’ll have a good one, my friend.

    – Jasper
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Lisa - January 15, 2016 Reply

Hey Jasper!
Thanks for these great tips. I like your examples in number 1, cut out unnecessary words. That is the fluffy stuff!
I create all my blog posts in a Word document to do a good spell check and grammar check. I also like your tip about waiting to review the first draft. I find that sitting with it for a day or so give me a fresh look at the piece.
Glad you suggested lots more white space. The majority of people consume blog content on their smart phones. Long paragraphs take up the entire screen and appear like a huge block of text that is not easy to read, Great tip!
Thanks again for the tips and have a great day!
Lisa
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Barbara Charles - January 15, 2016 Reply

Hi Jasper,

This is an amazing article. Love it. Gives all the facts about things I find in other annoying in other posts. You’ve documented all items quite well. Some of these things I already do. I always re-read. I always have one of my children read the article too – different perspective, different eyes, find different things. I do read it out loud. Result: less issues with the post, hopefully none.

I will try Grammerly. Never have although I’m heard of it. And I have to start writing to ‘one reader.’ Adrienne Smith has talked about this too so I need to make sure I do that. Good stuff and great for all readers.

Barbara
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    Jasper Oldersom - January 18, 2016 Reply

    Hi Barbara,

    First of all, thank you so much for stopping by and reading this post. I’m glad you loved it. It’s good to let your children read the article for a different perspective, I bet it’s even more fun because they get to know more about what you do!

    I can absolutely recommend Grammarly, it’s a nice tool. Writing to one reader is powerful, you will make your readers feel like you are talking to them.

    Thanks again for stopping by and leaving a comment Barbara, I hope you had a good weekend 🙂

    – Jasper
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Tom Southern - January 17, 2016 Reply

Hi Jasper,

“responsibly procrastinate” – excellent tip! I like that.

@AdrienneSmith shared this post on G+ which brought me over here and I’m glad she did. You’ve introduced useful tips here, like #6. This is something I’m learning to do with my own content.

Stories in general give extra punch to posts, don’t you think? It’s an art of course but
practice makes perfect-ish.

Reading posts out loud helps a lot. I often speak my content into Dragon Naturally Speaking which “writes” my posts for me 🙂 . It does takes some editing but I’d have to do this if I wrote it out first too. Also, I sometimes speak it into Audible and listen back to these recordings. This can help with testing out the interesting content quality, making it breathe – and rhythm.

Excellent post, Jasper! Cheers!

-Tom
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    Jasper Oldersom - January 18, 2016 Reply

    Hi Tom,

    Ha, I am glad you liked that tip! I am glad that Adrienne’s post brought you over here and I didn’t disappoint ;-). The art of metaphors is something for a whole different article, but a metaphor is really powerful because they alter the way we think about things.

    I agree Tom, they add a lot of punch. If you can share a good story it’s most likely the thing they will remember about the post a year (or longer) from now.

    That’s interesting about the Dragon program. I have never done it before, but I can only imagine it changes the way you “write”. Jon Morrow does all his writing this way out of necessity and he is one of the top bloggers out there.

    Awesome additional tips Tom, I am glad you stopped by to read and leave a comment. Have a great week ahead of you!

    – Jasper
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Rob McDonald - January 21, 2016 Reply

Hey Jasper,

This is my first time to visit your blog but I am glad I did as this is a great tutorial on how to edit your post before you publish.

I like you first point on cutting out unnecessary words. I think a lot of us, including myself, sometimes will add extra fluff, to get to a certain word count. We are all trying to please Google these days. But the extra words can backfire if you loose the reader. I say just write enough to get to the point that you are trying to convey to the reader, no more, no less.

I hear you on point number 2 and 3. I know when I do my first draft, I am typing like crazy trying to get all of my thoughts out and when I go back to edit, I notice a lot of words that were in my mind, that did not get out to the paper, somehow:) I have to take a break, or nap, after the first draft so that I can go edit with fresh eyes.

Point 7, I use contractions as well. I think when you are doing a blog post, you have to make it personal, so that you can connect with the reader, so I try to keep it simple, like I am talking to a friend.

Point 8 and 16, I think goes to the overall reader experience. I use white space, larger fonts, headlines, shorter paragraphs, I just try to make it as readable as possible without taxing the brain too much. I also try to write to that one person that is reading the article and try to make a connection with them.

Point 13–I don’t use the tools you suggested, but I use the Yoast SEO plugin, and it does a readability test there. So that works for me.

Thanks Jasper for sharing this article with us and I will be sure to share it as well.

I hope you have a great rest of the week!

–Rob
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    Jasper Oldersom - January 24, 2016 Reply

    Hi Rob,

    Thank you so much for stopping by and checking out my post, I’m glad you learned new things!

    I absolutely agree that you have to write just enough to get the point across. Write for the reader first and Google second. Ranking on Google is only important if your readers like what you have to offer to them.

    Taking a nap is an excellent way to get a fresh mind. It makes it so much easier to edit afterward. Going for a walk or anything fun and distracting is great as well.

    Writing conversationally is the way to go, Rob! That’s how you create those important connections with your readers.

    I’m glad to hear that you’re using enough formatting to make it easy for us readers to read what you have to say because that’s certainly pleasing to the eye.

    I do use the Yoast plugin but was never aware that there is also a readability test function in it. Thanks for pointing that out!

    Thanks again for your comment Rob, I appreciate it. Have an excellent day ahead of you!

    – Jasper
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Kim Willis - January 23, 2016 Reply

Hi Jasper

It’s been a long time since your last post, but worth the wait – no doubt about it.

This is a gem of a post with some many great tips.

I already many of your tips but not used Hemmingway (I already use Grammarly – brilliant), but will now.

Previously I never used metaphors in my writing. So it was a bit dull. I started using them a little bit before Xmas and people told me it was a smart move. The difference between using metaphors and not is a bit like the difference between a meat ‘n potatoes stew and a delectable boeuf bourguignon.

I like your idea of printing out the post before it gets published. Another opportunity to spot more ways to tune fine it, for sure. Same comments apply to the working backwards tip.

The key is to trick the brain a bit. My theory is that the brain is diverted from its default linear thinking mode when we approach the article from different angles,

Anyway, fabulous post – hope you publish another one soon!

Kim
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    Jasper Oldersom - January 24, 2016 Reply

    Hi Kim,

    I know it’s been a while, I promise I won’t make you wait as long for the next one 😉

    I’m glad you liked this one and it’s good to hear you are already implementing many of these tips to perfect your own self-editing. I’m sure you’ll like Hemingway, it’s a great app!

    Using metaphors is a smart move Kim, no doubt about it. I see you’re already playing around with them! They are very powerful because they can explain a complex idea in a simple way by relating it to something we already know.

    Exactly, it’s tricking the brain a bit. We are breaking patterns by taking these different approaches, it can turn out to be very effective.

    Thanks so much for stopping by Kim and I already saw you shared my post on Google+ so I want to thank you for that, too!

    Have a great day and a wonderful week ahead,

    Jasper
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Sunday William - January 27, 2016 Reply

Hey Jasper,
Great useful tips I must commend. Many writers share same view that their first draft remains what it is, ‘a draft’. Mastering the art of editing gives a writer an edge – both for speed and style.

One of the things I learned earlier is how to edit for grammar and mechanical accuracy.
Thanks for sharing these tips. They remind me that editing is simply a continuous thing!
I left the above comment in kingged.com
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Akaahan Terungwa - February 3, 2016 Reply

Hi Jasper,

Awesome work I must admit. As an editor of both my web copies and books, I must tell you that this is no mean task, especially if one is not to look stupid after shipping.

…there is always a misspelling here and an ommited word there; all hell bent on exposing you to the world for refusing to hire a professional editor 🙂

However, with the particular use of such awesome tools as Grammarly, things are always in check.

Aside this particular ‘trick’, I also make certain that when I am editing, I get as close to a sound proof environment as I can and while there, permit no distraction…you’ll be amazed how easy it is to let mistakes slip when you are distracted or are in a less than ideal environment.

This entry of yours, dear Jasper, is awesome!

Enjoy the day!

Always,
Akaahan Terungwa
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    Jasper Oldersom - February 3, 2016 Reply

    Hey Akaahan,

    First of all, thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I truly appreciate it.

    I’m excited you like my post! I fully agree that when you are shipping something, you want to make sure it’s flawless.

    When you make enough money from your eBooks to justify it, you could start looking into proofreading services.

    Grammarly is amazing. I must admit I started using it just recently. I wish I would’ve tried it out sooner!

    That is an awesome recommendation Akaahan, you’re so right. If we want to perform, we need to make sure our environment works for us, not against us.

    I love comments like these because they add value to my post, Akaahan. Thanks again.

    Hope to see you again soon and enjoy the rest of your week.

    – Jasper

Mansi Padhya - February 3, 2016 Reply

Hi Jasper,

This is an amazing article. Gives all the facts about things I find in other annoying in other posts. I like your examples in number 1, cut out unnecessary words. Great!
Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

    Jasper Oldersom - February 3, 2016 Reply

    Hello Mansi,

    Why, thank you. Haha, that put a smile on my face. Some posts definitely need to avoid some of their bad practices. I could’ve written it from that angle, too. Maybe some other time 😉

    I’m glad you liked those examples. You’d be amazed how many words you can leave out without distorting the message.

    Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. Enjoy the rest of your week!

    – Jasper

Hrvoje - February 7, 2016 Reply

Hi Jasper,
excellent post I love this one. read your own writing out loud. That is something what is really good to do. 🙂 Than you understand what you wrote. 🙂 Really helpful. Thank for sharing!
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    Jasper Oldersom - February 8, 2016 Reply

    Hi Hrvoje,

    Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment, I appreciate it. Reading your writing out loud is a very powerful exercise. You can also have someone else read it FOR you, which is also very revealing. Wherever they stumble is where you need to work on your writing. I’m glad I could help!

    Have a great week ahead 🙂

    – Jasper

Ana Hoffman - February 26, 2016 Reply

“Cut Out Unnecessary Words” is, by far, my favorite tip, Jasper.

I love to read uncluttered posts. Writing uncluttered posts?… still working on it. I’ll remember this tomorrow when working on my next blog post; thanks!

    Jasper Oldersom - February 26, 2016 Reply

    Hey Ana,

    I love to read uncluttered posts(and books), too. It’s one of the signs by which you can recognize an excellent writer.

    Already looking forward to your next blog post, Ana!

    Have a great weekend.

    – Jasper

Saminu Eedris - March 11, 2016 Reply

Hi Jasper,

This is a very nice post, I am not much of a writer and I am looking forward to learn a lot from this blog.

Thanks.
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Favour - March 15, 2016 Reply

Hi Jasper,

As a first time visitor to your Blog, i must say i did myself a great Favor!

Though my writing isn’t really Bad (it is kind of on the average :)), yet i feel i still have a lot of stuffs to work on in order to become even a better writer.

I’m currently involved in a project that will require me write for the consumption of a very large audience. And i strongly believe that with this write-up of yours as a guide, i will definitely come up with something ‘Wonderful’.

Thanks for sharing what you do.

Favour found it helpful. 🙂
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Noor Basheer - March 16, 2016 Reply

Hello

Take a Nap! That was an excellent point and I will definitely take care of these things when writing my next post..

Thanks
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Anyikwa chinonso - March 18, 2016 Reply

Hi jasper,

By far you made cool points… use of shorter words and print of piece is what do many people do miss… However, crafting unnecessary words.. it’s better to be specific in terms than to beat round the bush.

Thanks for the share.. very useful article
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Emmanuel - April 25, 2016 Reply

Hello Jasper,

Opportunity they say comes about when one finds himself at the right place at the right time and its really obvious finding myself on OpportunityBuilding.com is the right place to be.

When it comes to writing any post, making it great is what everyone looks up to but how to go about it is indeed a million dollar question.
These tips are indeed great and I am much grateful.
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Gurunath - May 8, 2016 Reply

Hi Jasper,

This is a very cool post, I am not a great writer and I am very lazy writer though. Need to work on few of the important points 🙂

Thanks a lot for sharing !! have a great day 🙂
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Surya Prakash - August 16, 2017 Reply

Hi Jasper,

This is an amazing article. Gives all the facts about things I find in other annoying in other posts. I like your examples in number 1, cut out unnecessary words. Great!
Thanks for sharing this. 🙂
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