How do you know when something’s ready to be published? Like, ready ready?

Plenty of times, I’ll come across a blog post or web article and think “Ohhhhh. Somebody must have been in a hurry to meet a deadline.” So how to make your writing not make someone else think that?

There are no hard and fast rules, and you can get into the trap of reading the same thing over and over again without ever sending it out into the world–all in the name of “editing.” That’s tempting, but it’ll never get you anywhere. (Who was it who said that perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor?) If you’re not sure when you’ve achieved “good enough,” perhaps this checklist will help you as you polish your next piece:

–Leave it for a little bit.

Anything you write will not suffer if you take a little break from it–for an hour, a couple hours, a good night’s sleep. Leave it, then come back with fresh eyes so you’ll able to see what’s working and what’s not.

–Read it out loud.

I do this with everything I write. EVERYTHING. Even emails. This is something authors do to see how their writing “flows.” It’s a handy dandy trick that’s good for bloggers, too.

Reading a chapter in a novel out loud tells me a lot of things I can’t get through a simple silent read-through. When am I going on too long? When have I used the same word too frequently? Where is the writing awkward or hard to picture? Is a paragraph five sentences when it only needs to be three?

If it sounds good when you say it out loud, it is good–and the opposite is true. (The only downside: you can’t really do this in Starbucks.)

–Cut Unnecessary Words

I get a little thrill out of going through a chapter/blog post/whatever and cutting words. No matter how sparing I think I’m being in the first draft, there are always little throw-out words that sneak their way in. Words like:

Up, down: Ex.: “I looked up at the ceiling.” You don’t look DOWN at a ceiling! No need to specify.

That: Most of the time, “that” is adding nothing. “Did you hear that Rebecca’s going to the prom with Gavin?” Take out “that” and the sentence meaning doesn’t change one bit.

Very, really: Boring adverbs that aren’t descriptive enough. Pro tip: You can do without most adverbs. Find a better way to get your point across. Ex.: “He nodded gravely.” Instead, try “He nodded, his mouth a grim line.”

I’m a big fan of this master list of cuttable words from Diana Urban and go back to it often when I’m editing a manuscript. We’ve all got our “crutch” words–words that aren’t pulling their weight, but we fall back on them to prop up our work. Knowing how to spot them is half the battle.

–Check Sentence Structure

Do I have a good mix of long and short sentences? Do some go on way longer than they need to? Have I started too many sentences with the same word?

“I peeked through the doorway. I strained to get a glimpse of the happy family at the dinner table. I wanted their lives.”


–Aim for Specificity

Could your writing be punchier by being more specific? Why say, “I rewarded myself with some treats,” when you could say “I rewarded myself with ten pieces of salted caramel dark chocolate, a bubble bath, and a re-watch of my favorite West Wing episode?”

When you’re editing, go back and see where you can be more specific. Specificity will take your work from something “blah” to something only you could have written. Your piece will land harder and be more memorable.

What words in your work do you have to go all Grim Reaper on–pull out your scythe and hack away when you see them cropping up? Any bad patterns you find yourself falling into? (Like ending sentences with prepositions?)

Happy editing, everyone!


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