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How to Edit Your Own Writing

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/07/smarter-living/how-to-edit-your-own-writing.html

nytimes.com

How to Edit Your Own Writing
Writing is hard, but don't overlook the difficulty - and the importance - of editing your own work before letting others see it. Here's how. The secret to good writing is good editing. It's what separates hastily written, randomly punctuated, incoherent rants from learned polemics and op-eds, and cringe-worthy fan fiction from a critically acclaimed novel.

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The first draft

The first words you write are the first draft. Writing is thinking. You'll rarely know what exactly you want to say when you start writing.

The time you put into editing, reworking and refining turns your first draft into a second draft, and then into a third. If you keep refining it over days or weeks or even years, it eventually becomes something great.

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Common errors

Most writing mistakes are widespread, but good writers just get better at spotting them. Some things you'll learn to watch for are:

  • Overuse of jargon and business-speak, like "utilize" or "endeavor" instead of "use" or "try."
  • Clichés are stale phrases that have lost their impact and novelty through overuse. If you are used to seeing it in print, don't use it.
  • The passive voice. The subject of the sentence should be the person or thing taking action, not the thing being acted on. "Harry wrote this article," is better than "This article was written by Harry."
  • Rambling. When you are not sure what you want to say, it is easy to phrase it in three or four different ways. A single concise sentence is generally better.

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Give it some space

When you write something, you get very close to it. It is nearly impossible to distance yourself from it straight away to edit properly.

The longer you can leave a draft before editing, the better. Half an hour to two days is enough of a break to edit well. When you do edit, read your work out loud. You'll catch more problems and get a better feel for how everything flows.

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If in doubt, cut it

If in doubt, cut it

It is more likely you've written too much than too little.
The rule for most writers is, "If in doubt, cut it." If a word, sentence, or paragraph isn't necessary, delete it. It will clarify what you're trying to say.

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Spend the most time on the beginning

The beginning of anything you write is the most important part. If you don't catch someone's attention at the start, you won't hold it later.

You should spend a disproportionate amount of time working on the first few sentences, paragraphs, or pages.

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Keep the structure in mind

The structure is what your writing hangs on. 

  • A topic sentence that is followed by supporting paragraphs and a conclusion work best.
  • Break up a series of paragraphs into concise points and, where necessary, insert subheads.
  • For longer pieces, the structure will need a lot of work. Narratives need to flow, and arguments need to build. 

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Use all the resources you can

  • A recommended how-to guide on writing good, clear English is “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.

  • “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell is also worth studying to avoid “ugly and inaccurate” writing.
  • A writing assistant like Grammarly can flag common writing, spelling, and grammatical errors.
  • A good thesaurus is also essential for finding just the right word.
  • A second pair of eyes. Ask relatives and friends to read over your work.

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The Levels of Resolution

An essay exists at multiple levels:

  • The choice of words
  • The formation of sentences
  • The arrangement of sentences in a paragraph
  • The arrangement of paragraphs in a logical progression, beginning to end
  • The essay as a whole

A good essay works at every one of those levels simultaneously.

Step 1: Choose Topic, Read & Take Notes

Writing begins with these 3 steps:

  • Pick a topic: because your essay should answer a central question.
  • Make a reading list: You should aim to read 5-10 books before you write an essay. And plenty of online sources. 
  • Take Notes: of everything that catches your attention. 

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Writing is Deliberate

Choosing the words to describe your work means you’re doing it on purpose. 

You’re going on the record as someone who thinks about why they do what they do, and understands how each decision affects the results. And developing this knack for critical thinking will also make you better at what you do.

Too much noise, too little attention

Too much noise, too little attention

Nobody wants to read anything you write at work. It's not personal though. We just happen to live in a world where there is so much information asking for our attention.

We can take a...

Write less often

Things that are rare and dwindling become more attractive and are perceived as more valuable. The less we write, the more valuable our writing becomes. 

Refrain from responding immediately. If another recipient should answer, give the person the right of first response. Ask yourself:

  • Do I need to send this now?
  • If not, do I need to send it at all?
  • If so, does more than one person really need it?

Fewer words

We long for clarity and for other people to say what they mean in as few words as possible.

Making wordy sentences that lose their fluency due to needless complexity in a text negatively affects the receiver of your message. In short: big is bad.