Lesson 5 – Writing vs. Editing

As a freelance writer, you might well be turning out thousands of words every day – so it’s important to know how to write easily and how to edit well.

I’ve noticed that a lot of writers struggle because they try to combine two separate processes: writing and editing. It’s more efficient to write first and then edit later, because you’ll get the whole of your piece down on the page before tweaking individual sentences and words.

Writing Your Piece

You’ve done the essential research, and you have an outline for what you want to write. When you sit down to draft, though, you feel like your mind’s gone blank. Maybe you write a sentence only to delete it and start again … and again … and again. Maybe you can’t get going at all.

Or perhaps you do get going, but the whole process feels difficult and frustrating. You end up procrastinating a lot, and you might even come close to missing deadlines.

Here’s how to make writing easier:

1. Don’t Start at the Beginning

Introductions are tricky to write – especially when you’re not yet sure what exactly you’re going to say in the rest of the piece. So don’t start with the introduction, start with the first key section. That’s the first subheading or major point in your outline.

Once you’ve written the piece, you can go back and craft that perfect introduction.

2. Set a Timer While You’re Writing

I mentioned this in strategies for beating writer’s block – but it’s good advice whether or not you’re stuck. A timer reminds you that you should be writing – not checking your email, chatting on Twitter or tidying your desk.

It’s up to you how long you write for – around 30 – 45 minutes is a good length to start with.

3. Keep Moving Forwards

Some writers try to edit as they go. Although that’s occasionally helpful, it can also hold you back. There’s no point endlessly editing one sentence if you never finish the piece, after all.

If you’re missing a bit of information, or if a particular sentence or paragraph doesn’t seem right, just write a note to yourself (I use [square brackets] for these) and come back to it later.

4. Avoid Interruptions

Most writers don’t have the luxury of their own office where they can sit down and work uninterrupted. You probably do your writing at home, with family or housemates around you. If you’re just getting into a piece and they interrupt, it can be really hard to find that writing flow again.

It’s not possible to eliminate all possible interruptions, but you can:

  • Turn off your phone, and Skype or instant messenger.
  • Find a quiet part of the house – ideally in a room where you can close the door.
  • Tell the people around you that you want to concentrate.
  • Wear headphones – even if you’re not listening to any music. People will be less likely to interrupt for a chat!

5. Remove Distractions

Do you find yourself checking email or reading the news online when you’re supposed to be writing? Some freelancers will block particular websites or even cut off their internet connection altogether during writing sessions.

You might find that simply being at home is distracting: there are books to read, games to play, movies to watch… Try taking your laptop to a library or coffee shop, where it’s much easier to avoid these distractions.

Don’t worry if you sometimes feel reluctant to sit down and write. Just start getting the words down and you’ll find that your momentum begins to build up.

6. Cover Your Monitor

If you cannot focus on writing and keep stopping to edit words and sentences as you write them, try this drastic but effective exercise: cover or turn your monitor off, and keep writing! That way you will not be able to edit anything, only write.

Editing Your Piece

After you’ve written something, it’s almost certainly going to need some editing.

Once you become very experienced – probably after months of full-time writing – you may find that your work comes out just-about-right the first time, with very little editing needed.

In the earlier stages, though, give yourself plenty of time to edit. That doesn’t just mean watching out for typos and grammatical mistakes (though that’s important too). It also means looking at the “big picture” of your piece. Here’s a quick checklist, working from the broadest areas down to the smaller details:

1. Have you fulfilled the client’s brief?

Yes, it’s an obvious question – but it’s easy to go off on a tangent or miss a particular detail when you’re writing.

Depending on what your brief was, you may need to cut the piece to a certain length, add in an extra paragraph, change the way you’ve structured the piece, or alter the language to make the piece more (or less) chatty.

2. Do your ideas flow logically?

Is the piece easy for readers to follow, or do your paragraphs jump around from topic to topic?

Often, you’ll find that a couple of paragraphs can be switched around, or even two sections. Adding in a linking sentence or two between different sections can also help the reader to follow the flow of your piece.

3. Is the tone of your piece consistent?

If your piece is chatty and informal (e.g. a blog post) then look out for stilted-sounding words, or technical jargon.

If you’re writing something with a professional feel (e.g. copy for a corporate website) then cut out any slang, jokes, etc – unless that’s what your client wants!

4. Do any sentences trip up the reader?

If you have to read it twice to get the meaning, the reader’s going to be lost!

Break longer sentences in two for easy online readability. Check that you’re using punctuation correctly. If a particular word or sentence is ambiguous, then change it so that your meaning is clear.

5. Are there any spelling or grammatical mistakes?

At a bare minimum, use a spellchecker! Note that some “rules” like “don’t start a sentence with ‘And'” can be broken in more informal online writing, like blog posts. Grammatical mistakes, though, are never okay.

Read through your finished piece slowly and carefully, and double-check any words or sentences which you’re unsure about. If you find yourself struggling, check out the ebook 100 Writing Mistakes To Avoid – available for free from the bonuses page.

Editing isn’t a chore to be raced through once your piece is “finished” – it’s an essential process which allows you to produce something you’re proud of, and which your client is delighted with.

And editing doesn’t have to take ages, either. The first few pieces you write might need a lot of work – but as you get more experienced, you may well find that it only takes ten minutes or so to read through your piece and make any necessary changes.

If Your Client Asks for a Rewrite

Often, your clients will accept your work without wanting any revisions. They may make minor editorial changes themselves, but they’re unlikely to ask you to do any more work on it.

In some cases, though, your client will want you to make changes to the piece. These could be relatively minor – perhaps a snappier introduction, or altering the text slightly to include certain key phrases. Or they could be more major – perhaps the client’s brief has changed significantly, and the whole piece needs to be rewritten.

Make sure your contract covers revisions; a lot of back-and-forth between you and the client wastes time for both of you, and prevents you doing other paid work. You might offer one round of revisions as part of the contract, but charge an additional fee for anything after that.

When rewriting to a client’s instructions, try to:

  • Get everything in writing from the client. Ask them to email you with a list of all the changes that they want – e.g. “shorten the piece to 800 words” or “add in a new section about Widget A”.
  • Work through the list that they’ve given you, and tick off the changes that you’ve made. It’s easy to miss something otherwise.
  • Remember that it’s your job to do the writing. Your client will tell you what they want, but you need to figure out how to do it. By all means ask for more details if necessary, but don’t expect them to tell you the words they want you to use.

If you need to rewrite extensively, then it’s often helpful to print the piece out and start afresh.

Congratulations, you concluded the first module!

It is time to put those concepts into practice! Go back to the lesson grid and start working on the assigned tasks.