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The Copy Shop is Copywriter Exchange’s monthly blog series written by our community members with the goal of sharing advice and insider tips with like-minded copywriters around the globe.
This month’s entry is by M. Scott Morris
Rewrite so your editor doesn’t cringe
When building a copywriting business, try not to make your editors shake their heads and sigh when opening your documents.
I like to keep editors happy, but self-editing also serves my interests. As the saying goes, writing is rewriting. You find out what you want to say in the first draft, and each draft after that is about refining how you say it.
When you self-edit, you
- sharpen your message
- reduce errors
- improve clarity
Sharpen Your Message
In Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, Roy Peter Clark advises cutting big and then cutting small. Consider the focus of the piece and make sure all of the elements back up what your client wants to say.
I won’t tell you how many drafts I went through for this column, but things got easier when I quit trying to cram in a long and unnecessary anecdote from my college days.
If you can improve weak points, do it. Otherwise, look for obvious places to cut:
- repetitive quotes
- unnecessary tangents
- shaky arguments
You can also move copy blocks around to make the piece flow better. The first edit is about getting the big picture right.
I originally titled this “Eliminate Errors,” but that was silly. Mistakes slip by us. It happens, but we don’t have to like it.
Take all the extra time you need with proper nouns. My self-editing soul stings more than 20 years after turning The Mornin’ Show into The Mournin’ Show.
Some errors are easy to catch, such as a missing article or comma. Nouns and verbs need to agree, and always check “there,” “their,” “they’re,” and the like. While you’re at it, be sure to use “affect” effectively.
But what about writing rules you don’t know well?
My advice is to pick up the grammar, spelling, and punctuation guide of your choice and carry it around for a while.
My favorite is The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. It’s a slim volume that’s been around in one form or another for more than a century.
My editor at Content Workshop is partial to Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer. I bought it and read through it because, as mentioned, I like to keep editors happy.
You could argue that all editing is about improving clarity, a primary goal when sharpening your message and reducing errors. It also applies to word choice and sentence structure.
My son wrote a solid college admission essay that flowed well from top to bottom, except for where he used fancy words when simple ones would’ve served him better. He was committed to impressing with his vocabulary rather than with his writing.
I couldn’t change his mind about that, but I got him to break up a few sentences so they’d be easier for readers to understand.
It’s old, clichéd advice, but read your stuff out loud. If it’s easy to say, it’s easy to read. Save the complexity for your Great American Novel, and your copywriting will be better for it.
At heart, self-editing is a gift you give yourself. No one becomes a writer with the aim of doing it poorly. You become a stronger writer by improving your rewriting skills, and you can take great comfort in knowing that editors don’t cringe when opening your documents.
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