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7 Golden Rules of Writing and Editing: A Non-grammar-focused Guide to Irresistible Writing
For the longest time, I was too scared to publish anything on my blog.
I had the debilitating fear of making a mistake – a simple error. What if somebody catches my mistake, corrects it and lets the world know? I would agonize over this problem. I thought my credibility as a Business Writer would be shot to pieces.
When you write, you constantly feel the pressure of mastering the art of using commas. You are required to understand the difference between a colon and a semi one, the misplaced modifier, and the rules on splitting the infinitive. Really, who has a brain to for that? Not me, for sure.
Do we really need to go back to school and learn grammar and punctuation all over again? Do we really need to take writing classes to understand the basics of forming intelligent sentences?
No and no. You need to do these things but you don’t necessarily have to go back to a classroom setting.
Here is a list of 7 rules that will help you to revise and edit your work painlessly – or at least with the least amount of it.
1. Make a good first impression
What is the most interesting bit or angle about your writing? Clue the reader in early and don’t bury the introduction in the body of the text.
If you lose your reader at this stage, there is no point to your writing. You might as well stop wasting your time as well as the reader’s.
2. Write to express, not to impress
Why is it that you are writing, again? Is it to make a point or to show off your literary prowess?
Always write so that everything is clearly understood.
Use simple words. Use the first word that comes to your mind as that will often work best.
Don’t look up fancy words in thesaurus as you go – write naturally. The only way you can get a better understanding of language is through your reading habit. Read more to increase your vocabulary organically.
Avoid clichés and jargon. Think outside the box.
3. Be specific – it won’t kill you
Use short sentences. Use clear sentences. Pay attention to structure and craft sentences that inform or even entertain your readers.
Use short paragraphs. Connect them in a logical, seamless flow. For every new idea you explore, start a new one.
Write in the active voice – this will make the most difference to your writing.
In active voice, the subject performs the action – it is the most direct, straightforward way to write.
“The dog chased by the boy.” This is passive.
“The boy chased the dog.” This more direct. Remember to use active voice whenever possible. Passive voice is usually slow and boring, and often doesn’t fully convey the message.
Often, the sentence becomes shorter as well. Writing in the active voice will make it much easier for you to stick to the text guidelines.
Try using strong verbs for action, be bold.
“She did the crime so she could pay for the jewellery.” Weak.
“She stole from her Mum so she could splurge on the jewellery.” Much better.
4. Reign over pesky punctuation and grim grammar
Make sure full stops, commas, apostrophes and dashes are in their proper places. Do the best you can and then move on.
Check for spelling and grammar. Remember to use spell check as well as your eyes.
Read for style. Make sure it is consistent throughout.
5. If in doubt, leave it out
Is there anything that really worries you? It’s much better to take it out now than to have regrets later.
Brevity is the secret of good writing. Do not waste words, do tight editing where every word means something. Avoid unnecessary words.
As Stephen King has said famously (and not famously said – remember not to split the infinitive),
Kill your darlings.
Do not get attached to your sentences.
Edit, edit, edit. Anything that doesn’t make sense, anything that doesn’t sound right to your ears; kill it. Go on, be brave and kill your darlings now.
6. Pay attention to the boring bits
Do attribute all quotations and allegations to someone. Check that the text does not defame anyone or breach copyright.
Make sure the length of your copy is appropriate. If you need to cut, cut from the bottom. That usually works well.
When you are satisfied you have edited the copy to the highest standard, read it again.
7. The Final Read – One More Time
You must become a tough editor of all text, even if it takes significant time and effort. Check and check again to see your basic ingredients are correct.
Read aloud – one last time.
While fear of imperfection should not stop you from writing, not educating yourself is not good enough of an excuse.
Learn, write and most of all, have fun along the way. You will find many people supporting you, because they themselves have been caught in the act, in this case, publishing their work with a typo.
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