To improve your writing, you need to edit yourself mercilessly. These six editing tips are from copywriters, editors, and freelance writers; they’ll help you clean up your articles and chapters, and increase the chances of selling your work to an editor or publisher.

Before the tips, a quip:

“It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly.” ~ C. J. Cherryh.

Fellow scribes, don’t let your fears of writing or rejection stop you from writing that first draft! Rest in the knowledge that almost any piece of writing — no matter how limp or soggy — can be improved with a few simple editing tips. For more editing advice, read Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips for Writers: The Ultimate Frugal Booklet for Avoiding Word Trippers and Crafting Gatekeeper-Perfect Copy (pictured). And, check out these six tips from experienced copywriters, editors, and freelance writers…

6 Editing Tips for Writers From Copywriters, Editors, and Freelancers

1. Use the “find” feature to eliminate certain phrases. “When writers have finished their first draft, they should use the “find” feature to identify the phrases “there are” or “there is” or “to be.” There are always better ways to write sentences — without using those phrases. This type of editing makes writing more action packed and creative.” – Meghan Sager, public relations specialist.

2. Eliminate the word ‘that.’ “Rarely is the word ‘that’ valuable or necessary,” says John Honeycutt, author of Provocative Business Change: Business-Turfing. “Take, for example, ‘I hope that your effort is successful’ versus ‘I hope your effort is successful!'” When you’re editing your writing, take out words that add unneccessary bulk.

3. Trust the writing process. “The process works. The job isn’t in the writing, it’s in the rewriting,” says television, book, and magazine writer Jill Golick. “The first draft isn’t supposed to be good; writers just need to barrel their way through to the end without self-editing. The second draft will be better, and the third better still.  The more the article or chapter is rewritten, the better it’ll get.” Golick also encourages writers to forget quality, and go for quantity.

4. Let your writing go. “The best writing advice I ever received was to not get attached to words,” says Alyice Edrich, editor and freelance writer. “When writers allow themselves to get emotionally attached to what they’ve written — which is really easy to do as a creative artist — they don’t allow themselves to improve their writing. While it is true that some critiques are a matter of opinion and can be easily ignored, other critiques are a matter of business. Editors, for instance, often come back with suggestions to change paragraphs, delete sentences, increase background information or sources, or overhaul certain grammatical errors. Those critiques can sting and hurt a writers’ egos, even making them feel like failures or as though they’ve been personally attacked. The problem occurs when writers don’t take those critiques objectively and choose an unprofessional attitude, causing the editor to wish she’d never given the writer the assignment in the first place.”  

5. Check the facts in your article, book proposal, or essay. “My key piece of writing advice is look up everything,” says freelance writer and editor Cynthia Clampitt. “Writers should NEVER write what they think is correct without checking first. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen things come across my desk, in which a writer has written off the top of his or her head. The errors were horrendous. I’ve seen Mikhail Baryshnikov named as the president of Russia, penultimate used to mean “more than the best” (it means “next to last),” and more examples. I tell writers there are two things they need to look up: all their facts and all their words. Because if they don’t, either the publication will look stupid or some harried editor has to rewrite the piece.” 

6. When in doubt, take the word (or phrase) out. “According to my journalism professor, writers tend to fall in love with their own words. They need to use an editor’s eye when revising and editing their writing,” says Mary Beth Kriskey, a copywriter and public relations specialist. “Sometimes writers are blind to words or phrases that do not enhance the goal of the written piece.  To this day, whether it is my own writing or I am proofing/reviewing a project for work or family and friends, if something strikes me as extraneous, duplicated, awkwardly phrased and so on, I (try to) remove it.”

What do you think of these editing tips from freelance writers, copywriters, and editors? I welcome your comments below…

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19 thoughts on “6 Editing Tips for Writers From Copywriters, Editors, and Freelancers”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    I know — that “Find” feature is a great way to edit and revise your writing! But first, you have to know what your writing weaknesses are…which takes time and practice.

  2. Nice post. Great advice on using the “find” feature during editing to eliminate certain phrases. You also got my attention on sometimes writers fall in love with their own words since I think I do sometimes. Excellent tips!

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for the editing tip, Gina! That’s a great way to clean up your writing and avoid redundancy.

    I tend to use ! way too much, so should search for ! before I publish anything.

    Happy editing,

  4. Great, great list!

    I will use this with my writing students!

    One additon I would make to your first point: Find your own pet phrase and search for it in your writing and delete most instances. For example, I tend to use “in other words” a lot, and I shouldn’t. So I search for it, and take it out. Usually, the whole sentence becomes unnecessary because if I say it well the first time, I don’t need “other words” to say it.

    A friend found she used the word “clearly” too frequently, so she always searches for that and deletes all but one reference.

  5. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    What an eagle eye you have, Daniel! Unintentional comedy…but can I claim immunity in the fact that it was another writer’s contribution, not my own writing tip?

  6. Did you intentionally break your #1 rule immediately after writing it? If yes, I’m not sure what point you are making.

    “When writers have finished their first draft, they should use the “find” feature to identify the phrases ”there are” or “there is” or “to be.” THERE ARE always better ways to write sentences — without using those phrases.”

    Intentional irony or unintentional comedy?

  7. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Yes, Gabi, sometimes “that” is necessary…just like adverbs and adjectives are sometimes the only way to write a great sentence! (even though we’re often told to edit them out).

    Thanks for your tip on creating your work and them letting it go…especially if you’re writing or creating for clients! That’s the beauty of blogging, or writing for yourself: you can write it any way you like, and it’ll stay that way for as long as you like 🙂

    See you in cyberspace,
    .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post ..6 Tips for Freelance Writers and Authors Who Can’t Pay Their Income Taxes =-.

  8. The tip about the find feature is really interesting! I have trouble with “that,” though. I know that it sounds bulky, but I get stuck up on places where it really is grammatically necessary even though people so often drop it colloquially.

    It really is a huge hurdle for writers to stop being in love with their words and be able to self edit. This can also be an issue with graphic design, but one of my design mentors taught me that after you first create something, you need to just let go, because you aren’t creating the work for yourself, but for the person who commissioned the job/assignment. And if they don’t like it or want some change that you think destroys the artistry or aesthetic somehow, you have to keep in mind that it is their piece in the end, not yours.
    .-= Gabi´s last blog post ..Z2C #7: The 5 Best Places to Find Great Recipes =-.

  9. Julie - Fine Tooth Comb

    I never considered using the find/replace feature to banish certain wordy phrases — but I think it’s a brilliant idea! Thanks for the inspiration!

  10. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comments…

    Jo ~ I’m glad the first editing tip helped; that’s great to hear! I suspect you won’t even need the “find” feature after awhile; it’ll just become one of your great writing habits.

    Jake ~ I never read my writing out loud to proof it for errors, but I keep hearing writers who do…your comment inspires me to try it at least once.

    Jim ~ I like your FITCE example…in fact, all your editing tips were great. I almost never use my writing resources (not even my dictionary), so I appreciate your reminder.

    And Karen ~ I’ve experienced the pain of deleting paragraphs and even chapters of my writing…because I fell in love with my work. You’re right; it’s not worth it!

    Looking forward to seeing y’all around these parts again 🙂

    .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post ..Are You Ready for a Writing Career? 4 Tips for Freelancers =-.

  11. Excellent advice! I think #4 is especially important. I often tell my clients not to “fall in love with their words.” It is easier for some than for others, but experience helps, as does a commitment to the message.

  12. > “Writers should NEVER write what they think is correct without checking first.”

    Read it. Learn it. Live it.

    There’s a phenomenon I call “FITCE” which stands for “F(orget) it — that’s close enough.” It has found its way into writing with increasing frequency now that the “spell checker” has supplanted dictionaries, style manuals and good old-fashioned thinking before you write.

    Your/you’re, their/there/they’re, affect/effect, its/it’s — the list goes on and on. Add the “Mikhail Baryshnikov named as the president of Russia” type of stupidity, and the quality of prose has decreased markedly in recent years.

    Get a dictionary, the Chicago Manual of Style and/or the AP Style Manual, and Roget’s Thesaurus. Use them. And, to paraphrase another piece of advice in the post, when in doubt, leave it out. Using a word you think you understand impresses nobody.

  13. Thanks for posting. This is an excellent list. Some other things I frequently do are 1. read my work aloud, 2. use a sheet of paper and read one line at a time, and 3. sleep on the first draft and come back to it fresh in the morning.

  14. Kisses! Using just the first two suggestion, I found a profusion of there-is’s, there-are’s and that’s in my writing. Though I am not eager to explore what I wrote before having this information, I am enormously grateful.
    .-= Jo Lightfoot´s last blog post ..Purple Prose and Poetry =-.