Editing and The Freelance Writer
I love words, and I love talking; it’s often more fun than writing. As a natural born storyteller I can tell an engaging story, but, inevitably, I end up taking you to a couple of different places in the course of getting from A to B. If you know me you understand that given patience and a little time, I will get to my point. Hopefully, it’s worth it.
I also think there’s a little midlife ADD thrown in the mix nowadays…not uncommon for older(ish) adults. If I was ADD at an earlier age it was either not diagnosed, very mild or I learned quickly to cope. But, I digress.
It seems intuitive for a writer to use lots of words. Right? That’s what we do. Sometimes we’re even paid by the word. How confusing is that?
A good writer uses fewer words. She parses (d. to examine in a minute way : analyze critically) them, editing and revising in order to capture the essential words needed to communicate the thought. Strunk and White advocate this in The Elements of Style:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary line and a machine no unnecessary parts.
As freelance writers, we have less freedom to play loose with words. Our job is to convey a client’s point, to build brand, to communicate, engage and sell. It’s not a word count game. It’s about being succinct–capturing and distilling the essence of meaning for our audience.
I’ll start the sharing by acknowledging that I often fail miserably at this task. Paying more recent attention to my style I’ve discovered a few of my frequent transgressions. The ghost of my English Grammar teacher is laughing at me and shaking her finger scornfully, as I write this.
But! Awareness is the first step.
- I’m too wordy!
- I start sentences with ‘but’, ‘so’ and ‘and’ frequently. And, (see!) since I hate figuring out commas I get awkward before the sentence even has a chance to get rolling.
- I tend to use a passive voice too frequently. The active voice is direct, it gets to the point and feels and reads as a stronger message. If one were to think about using the active voice more often…….
- There is the that vs. which dilemma. Got that page marked in Strunk and White.
- The other That. The word that we tend to use unnecessarily in sentences.
Of course there are more. We all have a few bad writing habits. That’s why we have grammar books. I own three. How about you?
Anyone who trades on their writing skills for a living has to become a strong editor as well. You can’t send work to a client with mistakes, small or large. You have to get in the habit of identifying your writing flaws and correcting or changing them.
The standard tricks for proofreading/editing include saving your article to return at a later time, with fresh eyes, to do your editing. Another tip is to print your piece and read it from paper. That’s a particularly useful editing method for me.
A useful editing style for me is to read my work aloud. There’s something about hearing your words that helps identify problem areas. You can also read work to another person or ask a friend to read and make suggestions as well.
The method you choose for proofing and editing your work depends on your style. Find the style that works for you and use it to strengthen and improve your writing.
What’s your preferred method for finding mistakes and strengthening your writing?