Lesson 2: Go beyond filling the blank page - A 3 minute guide to editing

Lesson 2: Go beyond filling the blank page - A 3 minute guide to editing

Schools condition you to think that filling the blank page is your primary task whereas, revising is optional.

Last lesson was about getting comfortable in capturing your thoughts. Your brain dumps.

This lesson is about refining them for your readers.

It's about putting yourself in your reader's shoes and editing what you've written.

The Hurdles of Level-2

Editing your work presents 2 hurdles:

Hurdle #1: Empathising with the reader

When you first write what you're thinking, your brain is focused on the challenge of accurately capturing your thoughts. In that exercise, you write for yourself.

But ultimately, you want to write for the reader. So, your next challenge is to put yourself in the reader's shoes and tweak what you've captured.

Hurdle #2: Understanding the need for rewriting

Schools don’t teach you iteration but iteration is everything outside of school. In school, you would complete an assignment, hand it over and you are done. You don't learn to revisit it.

  • Jason Fried, Founder & CEO of Basecamp

Schools condition you to think that filling the blank page is your primary task whereas, revising is optional.

But in professional writing, rewriting is where the battle is lost or won!

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Overcoming the hurdles to finish Level 2

Rewriting is the essence of writing well.

  • On Writing Well, a classic writing guide by William Zinser

So, how do you rewrite?

I've realised that it's a 2-step process:

Step 1. Put yourself in your reader's shoes

Put yourself in the shoes of someone you know and try reading what you've written from their eyes:

  • "Do I want to keep reading this? Is it still interesting or do I get the gist?"

  • "Am I just assuming that the reader shares my own feelings, prejudices or knowledge?"

  • "Is this sentence or paragraph necessary for the reader to get the main point? What if I take it out?"

But beware - it can get irritating!

After reading your sentences a bunch of times, you'll know every nook and corner of your paragraphs too well. Then, you may find it difficult to read your words from a new pair of eyes.

I have discovered a few simple tricks that, to my surprise, overcome this problem really well:

  • Invert colors of the screen
  • Read on a different device
  • Read in a different editor

This step will show you the sloppiness in your thinking -

Perhaps your first draft has inconsistent tenses or incorrect punctuation. Or perhaps you weren't yourself and some of your lines are just untrue. Or perhaps it is too unclear, too complicated, too repetitive or too pompous.

Step 2. Fix the sloppiness

Then, it's time to fix all that newly discovered sloppiness. But we all have a certain equity towards our first drafts - we want to believe that it came out perfect the first time. This makes it emotionally difficult to pull out the chisel and the axe.

That, however, is your job. It goes beyond simply filling the blank page. It's your job to refine your writing in a way that makes it enjoyable for the reader.

You must make sure that each sentence leads to the next one. Make sure that the reader doesn't feel lost. Or bored.

This lesson will get your through Level-2 of writing.

In the next few days, I'll publish lessons to take you through more levels. You can sign up for the Clear Writing, Clear Thinking email workshop to get everything over email.

Along with the lessons, the workshop also contains small tasks that you can complete to practice what you learned.

I'm giving it all away for free!

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