In last week’s featured article, I introduced a five-part writing process that will help you accomplish several things as a writer:
- Overcome writer’s block
- Get more easily into the creative “flow” of writing
- Identify weak points in a draft and find ways to shore them up
- Remove stumbling blocks that break up the flow of writing
- Polish each piece of work so it’s as strong and error-free as possible
If you’re new to the world of freelance writing, this process might seem a little strange. Lots of people come to writing with the idea that actual writing — putting words down on paper — is all that’s involved… that words just pour forth in a coherent, logical, and moving way.
For the rare few that may be true.
For me — and for most of the writers I know — it’s not. But that’s where the writing process comes to the rescue. When you use this process, you can create powerful sales copy, gripping articles, even brilliant fiction. You can be a better writer than you imagined… as long as you accept that great writing hardly ever happens on the first pass.
So, just to recap, the writing process involves five steps: Pre-Writing, Drafting, Revision, Editing, and Proofing. Last week, we dug into Pre-Writing (the secret to beating writer’s block every time) and Drafting (everyone’s favorite step), and I gave you several tips to help you make the most of each of those steps.
Today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the remaining three steps: Revision, Editing, and Proofing. Lots of people lump these three together into a single step. If you do that too, it’s okay. But I want to challenge you to try separating them out during your next two or three projects. See if it makes a difference. I know it does for me.
Revision, editing, and proofing get lumped together, because they all have to do with improving your writing and fixing errors.
The difference between each step is the breadth of your focus. First up…
Step 3. Revision
Revision is just what it sounds like — a chance for you to take a new view of what you’ve written. During the revision process, you want to review what you’ve written as a whole piece and section by section.
During revision, look for:
- Unanswered questions: Is there anything in what you’ve written that raises questions you don’t answer? If so, would answering those questions add strength to your piece? (Usually the answer is yes, but not always.) If that’s the case, review the research you did during pre-writing to see if you have the answer. If the answer isn’t in your existing notes, you’ll do a little more research to find the information you need to flesh your piece out.
- Lapses in logic: Do you have any sections that don’t flow in a logical order or that are built on assumptions rather than facts and experience? If yes, those sections need some reworking.
- New possibilities: If you follow the writing process and allow your words and ideas to flow during the drafting process without censorship, you may very well discover some new ideas that deserve to be emphasized. Giving them the spotlight might mean tweaking the way your work is ordered.
- Stray thoughts: If you have sections or paragraphs that are not adding strength to your central idea, those may need to be rewritten to show a clearer link to your main point. Or they may need to be cut.
- Consistent voice: Does your work sound like the same person talking all the way through? If not, give some thought to the voice of the piece and rework the sections that don’t fit.
During revision, you address two things: (1) major problems or areas of weakness, and (2) missed opportunities — ideas that developed during drafting that can be refined and used to make the result even more powerful.
The revision step is also an ideal time to have someone else read your work and provide feedback, telling you where they were most engaged, where they were confused, and what questions they had.
Once you’ve gone through the revision process, the next step is to edit your work.
Step 4. Editing
During the editing process, you want to look for ways to:
- Eliminate clichés
- Strengthen weak phrasing
- Smooth transitions
- Improve clarity
- Reduce wordiness
This is your chance to identify those paragraphs that are wordy, bumpy, or boring and change your phrasing to be concise, clear, and engaging.
For clichés, look for ways to give them a twist that will make them fresh again. For boring sentences, take a moment to get excited about what you’re trying to say and then reword it while in that mindset. Make sure moving from one paragraph to the next is easy and seamless for the reader. (Hint: Read it out loud to find awkward transitions.) And identify any ideas you can express more simply.
After the editing process, it’s time to proof.
Step 5. Proofing
This is what many writers mistake for editing. It’s an important step, no doubt, but if you skip the revision and editing steps, you’ll miss many opportunities to push your writing from good to great.
During the proofing step, your goal is to find errors and fix them. Proofing is much more than running spell check, although be sure to do that, too. You want to make the document as clean as possible. By now, it should already be well-organized, well-written, and a pleasure to read.
Proofing puts the frosting on the cake and makes you look like the professional you are.
To make your proofing step as productive as possible:
- Go through the piece word by word from front to back, correcting errors as you find them.
- Next, proof backwards. Go through the document sentence by sentence from the last to the first. You’ll catch many errors doing this that you might otherwise miss.
- Then, read the work aloud. Doing this reveals things that aren’t obvious when you read silently.
If you deliberately go through each step of the five-part writing process, you’ll find you’re writing stronger, more credible, and more professional copy in no time.