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Becca B. Jenkins Posts

4 Self-Editing Techniques That Actually Work

When you’re writing your first draft, it’s important you do all the things that help you be creative. Make your ginger-lemon tea, burn your incense, put on your writing socks. Play music, drink wine, and let your mind get into the flow.

But when it comes to draft number two, it’s time to kick the writer out of the room. Send her to lunch or to the movies, and let your editor-self play bad cop.

Whether you are about to turn in your work to an editor or acting as your own editor, there are techniques that can help you be more effective when re-reading your pieces. If you’ve read your article or story a hundred times, it can be hard to read it again and notice the mistakes. Your brain literally won’t let you.

So, here are four tools that will improve your self-editing skills.

1. Read backward.

At the paragraph level, start by reading the last paragraph in your piece. Then read the second to last paragraph, etc. Or, you can start by reading the very last sentence, then the sentence before, and then the sentence before that.

Either method works because both are based on the same principle—you are taking your words out of context so you can look at the grammar, spelling, and punctuation. This is not a great technique if you’re self-editing for flow and logic.

2. Read out loud.

If you like to write in a coffee shop and this one has you thinking, “No way,” then just try moving your lips instead of voicing the words. But speaking (or mouthing) as we read has the effect of slowing us down. It makes us present to each word, which makes us see when a word is wrong or extraneous.

This technique works well for copy-editing type issues as well as logic and flow issues. If something feels awkward or redundant to say, then it will probably feel that way to read, too.

3. Take a break between writing and editing.

This is my favorite editing technique. Not doing anything. Just setting your work down, walking away, and thinking about something else. It’s best if you can take a whole day between the “completion” of your first draft and when you return to it. This means, of course, that you must start writing your piece well ahead of deadline. (This is often the hardest part of this technique.)

If you can make it happen, creating that gap between writing and editing will allow you distance from your work. That distance will help you to see not only the grammar and punctuation issues, but also where you could have been a little more creative or where you could have built your argument more.

In that time between when you stop working and when you come back, you may find your mind wanders and provides you with new inspiration. Ever wonder why you always get ideas while in the shower or on a walk? Because you’ve let your mind free from what “has to be done right now.” Try to do that in your writing as well so your ideas can flow and you can see your work objectively when you sit back down.

4. Hire a free editor.

What? They have those? I thought all editors cost five dollars a page, right? Nope, you can use free online services to point out some issues you might have in your piece. My favorite is the Hemingway App.

This app will pick out the hard-to-read sentences, the passive structure, and any adverbs (because we all know how Hemingway felt about adverbs). It also shows your word count and the grade level of readability. If you’re writing a novel or a highly creative personal essay, this app may not work for you. For most online writing it’s a great place to start. I send some of my staff writers to it simply so they can see how many adverbs they use!

This app’s ability to point out the abuse of words becomes especially obviously when the writer has a go-to word—like “very,” “really,” or “ultimately” —and the app highlights the word fifteen times. I call these go-to words “crutches.” Because that’s what they are—you rely on them to convey meaning instead of taking the time to pick better nouns and verbs that can stand on their own.

The online version of the Hemingway App is free, but you can also download a desktop version for $19.99. I’ve never bothered with the paid version, but I do know people who prefer the paid version as functions as a word processor, allows them to write when WIFI is unavailable, exports to Microsoft Word, and can even publish straight to Medium and WordPress.

Switch Personalities for Successful Self-Editing

Remember, your inner-writer and your inner-editor are two different people. Once your first draft is done, thank your writer-self for her lovely work and then usher her out the door. As your editor-self, it’s time to put away the wine, tea, and smelly candles.

Instead, load up on caffeine, turn off the music, and go find an empty room to lock yourself in so you can read out loud backward—and so no one can see you cry when you start deleting all those beloved adverbs.

Do your best to leave space between draft one and draft two, because as you can see, it’s quite a character shift. You might be able to pull it off, but it will be easier with a little breathing room.

Want to Publish a Short Story? Read My Guest Post on The Write Life

I wrote a guest piece for The Write Life on where to send your short stories so they actually get published. It can be intimidating to send out to prestigious places, and it can also be hard on the ego. So read my article for six ideas of places that will help your writer wings take flight.

Here’s an excerpt:

Here are six short story journals that publish amazing work — but also have acceptance rates that will put a smile on your face and your words out into the world.

Some of the publications listed below don’t pay and some pay only token amounts. But remember for us writers, “payment” doesn’t always look like money. Sometimes payment looks like a bullet on your resume, getting your name in front of a new audience, or (one that I think is incredibly important) putting a big checkmark in the win column that sends you running back to your keyboard.

Click here to read the full article.

5 Ways You Can Write Better Articles by Studying Fiction

Yes, it’s true — you should study your specific craft. If you want to write great informative and shareable articles for the Internet, then that’s what you should study. But do you know what the people who write those articles are studying? It may come as a surprise to you, but many of them study the principles of fiction writing.

Proof That Stories Propel Content

The people over at Buffer (a social media app company that specializes in effective communication) suspected that storytelling could be a useful tool and used their own audience as a test. They did an A/B test where some of their readers were sent to a version of an article with no story at the beginning. The rest of the readers were sent to a second version that opened with a story.

And according to Buffer: “The post with the narrative intro had nearly 300% more people scroll all the way to the bottom, and average time on page was more than five times higher!” So that’s just one real-world example of the same information being presented with and without a story — and the difference in audience engagement that resulted. Imagine if every one of your blog posts or articles had 300% more people scrolling all the way through.

And if you have that many more engaged readers, imagine then how that can snowball into more social media shares, more mailing list sign-ups, and more members of your personal tribe. If people enjoy reading your pieces, they become part of your audience.

5 Ways You Can Incorporate Storytelling

  1. Open with a story: What story can you tell that relates to the lesson you’re teaching? Is there a personal experience from your life you can share to create empathy with the reader?
  2. Paint a scene: How can you put your lesson into a real-life and dramatic scenario?
  3. Rely on the senses: What does it feel like to do what you’re telling us to do? Or to make the mistake you are helping us solve?
  4. Re-tell a story your audience already knows: Maybe a folk story or anecdote exists that illustrates your point and that many people will be familiar with and therefore relate to?
  5. Persuade with a story: Is there a testimonial that will speak to the power of what you are teaching, sharing, or selling?

To learn more about each of these techniques, sign up for my How to Write Meaningful Content for the Internet online class. Classes begin in July and September and you can work through the course materials at your own pace.

P.S. Read My Micro-Fiction

Writing fiction doesn’t mean you have to commit a year of your life to writing a novel. You can write flash fiction in one night! Flash fiction is generally defined as anything 1000 words or less. Check out my most recently published piece of flash: The Downed. It’s only a couple hundred words long — it won’t take you much time at all!

Sign up for the next session of my class:
How to Write Meaningful Content for the Internet

A 4-Step Process for Creating a Lively Writing Practice

The biggest problem most aspiring writers face has nothing to do with technology, websites, social media, SEO, or anything of that stuff that sounds so complicated.

The biggest problem for most aspiring writers (and many working writers, to be honest) is simply sitting down to write. It sounds like an easy thing to do, but in practice it’s deceptively hard.

To solve this problem, I’ve created a four-step process to help my personal coaching clients develop a lively writing practice:

Step 1: Acknowledge that sitting down to write is hard, and stop making yourself wrong.

Give yourself permission to be human. Making ourselves feel bad about not writing isn’t going to help us feel good about writing in general. Tell yourself you’re sorry for making yourself wrong. It’s that simple. Just say it to yourself.

Done? Okay, moving forward.

Step 2: Treat yourself as well as you treat your clients.

Or, if that doesn’t work for you, try this one: Treat yourself as well as you treat your children.

When you schedule a slot for someone else in your life, you show up. You don’t cancel on a client unless serious stuff hits the fan and you don’t not show up for your kids. So take yourself that seriously. Schedule your writing sessions, and show up for them like you’re showing up for someone else.

Step 3: Create a proper environment.

If you can, have a dedicated “writing space.” A desk you sit at, a pillow you sit on, a certain table in a certain coffee shop, whatever it is. Go to that space when it’s writing time. Try not to go to that space when it’s not writing time. If you are consistent with this, eventually your body and mind will clue in that “when I go here I write.” It’s a little like litter box training, except hopefully you’ve created a nicer “writing space” for yourself then that.

Step 4: Create a ritual that signifies your writing session is starting and sets your mind.

Wear a certain sweatshirt. Drink a certain type of tea. Walk backward around the desk three times. Whatever it is. Have a sequence of things that puts you in the mindset of writing. I like to make and drink tea, sit on a pillow in a corner, read a short story or a couple articles about writing, then get to work. For you, maybe a few minutes of meditation focused on a writing or creative intention would be good? Maybe listening to a certain piece of music? Everybody has different rituals, so experiment in finding yours.

Writing won’t happen because you want it to. You need to take action to make writing space and time occur. Make a commitment to your writing times for the upcoming week. Sit there for thirty minutes each day staring at the wall if that’s what happens. Be okay with it, and know if you practice making space and time, the writing practice itself will soon follow.

Sign up for the next session of my class:

How to Write Meaningful Content for the Internet


The World Needs Meaningful Content, The World Needs You

Do you remember the first time someone read one of your stories and loved it? Do you remember how good you felt?

Now, think back. Did that person say, “Hey, kid. This story is great. Can I buy your notebook?”

Probably not.

It was probably more like, “Wow, you transported me to another world.” Or when you got a little older, it was, “You reminded me of when I lost someone, too.” And if you wrote something powerful, somebody might have said, “I don’t feel so alone. My life is different now. Thank you.”

That’s writing with impact – with meaning. It feels good to your audience, and it’s rewarding to you as the writer.

Writing meaningful content is powerful because it can:

  • Help someone achieve their dream career
  • Inspire someone to make a challenging decision
  • Encourage someone to make a healthier lifestyle choice
  • Motivate someone to declare a new goal
  • Activate someone’s curiosity in a whole new area of learning
  • Provide the tools someone needs to do that thing they’ve always wanted to do

Those are things worth doing – and worth inspiring in others.

It’s up to you to find the power to fuel your words. But here’s a big hint: power comes from passion. You’re most likely to be powerful in the same places you’re most passionate. Ask yourself, what drives you? What do you have to share?

Remember how much you loved writing those stories as a kid? How endlessly you imagined about the unicorns, or robot builders, or race car drivers? Find that kind of passion. That excitement that made you fill notebooks full of words, one after the next. Ignite that kind of passion in other people by touching them with your flame.

Meaningful Content Sells Better Than Meaningless

I know, I know. You’re thinking, “That’s great, and I do want to change the world, but I still need to sell my widget to keep a roof over my head.” Here’s the beauty of writing meaningful content: it doesn’t mean you can’t sell. It does mean you’re not just selling.

You’re writing to share information, to create connection, and to put something worthwhile into the world. You’re writing to provide people with tools. You’re writing to reveal opportunities and solve problems. You’re writing to make a difference and you are making a difference.

In the process you’re also creating authority, establishing expertise – and selling your widgets because you’re seen as someone who creates valuable, worthwhile things. One of these “things” is the act of doing good. You’re doing something good for somebody else somewhere in the world. Maybe multiple somebodies, in many places. That might not show up in the accounting books, but it should show up on some internal scorecard you’re keeping. Because making a difference counts for something. In fact, it counts for everything.

And the world needs more people checking that box on their scorecards.

Sign up for the next session of my class:

How to Write Meaningful Content for the Internet


Why Successful Guest Posting Is Just Like Speed Dating

I remember when speed dating first became a “thing.” People decried it as yet another sign we were going the way of the Romans, or television was ruining our society, or human connection wasn’t valued anymore. After trying a few rounds of speed-dating in my younger years, I think it’s not actually a bad thing and its usefulness all comes down to your execution.

In fact, successful guest posting is a lot like speed dating. Pitching guest posts can leave you frustrated, feeling like your dream girl won’t give you the time of day or there’s too many fish in the sea to even figure out which one you’re after. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Just like in dating, successful guest posting is all about your strategy. If you come prepared, you’ll go home with a bunch of “numbers” – whether we’re talking phone numbers or traffic numbers to your website.

Here are the three essential steps to successfully pitch yourself and/or your guest post:

1. Know What You Want

Many of us fall into the dating trap of trying to please the other person and not remembering our own goals and needs. This happens in guest posting, too. We’re so eager to get a “yes” that we forget our own strategy. What audience are you trying to reach? What metrics define what a successful guest post is for you? What sort of referral traffic, newsletter sign-ups, or sales are you looking for? Know what you want – don’t just fall for the next pretty website you see.

2. Know What Questions to Ask

If you’re a speed-dating pro, you have a list of questions to ask quickly before your time is up. You use these questions to determine if the person opposite you is in the ballpark of being a match. In guest posting, this looks like doing your research on traffic, reader engagement, post frequency, demographics, and keywords. Find out if your potential suitor has what you’re looking for.

3. Know Who Is Worth the Pursuit

Value yourself and what you have to say. Don’t say yes to just anyone. Your time and content are worth something. Make sure you’re entering into a relationship with an equal partner – one who appreciates you for everything you have to offer. And if this is an ongoing relationship, but you’re not seeing the benefits roll in, remember you can call this thing off at any time.

The Key to Successful Guest Posting

It’s easy in guest posting to fall into the trap of wanting to be liked. We all want to get a “yes” and we’re often so eager to get our name out there that we forget to do our homework and find our perfect match. Like in dating, though, when you do find that right match, it’s mutually beneficial – not to mention fun and enjoyable.

Would you like to become the Don Juan of guest posting?

Take my online class:

The 3 Essential Steps to Landing a Guest Post


You Don’t Have to Be the Best Writer to Get the Best Job

It doesn’t matter if you write the most intriguing query letter and it doesn’t matter if you write the perfect article, if you’re making any one of the mistakes I’m about to share with you.

The hard truth is, the best writers don’t necessarily get the best writing jobs.

The best writers don’t necessarily get any jobs. Talent alone will not get you hired.

What This Truth Means for You

Depending on how you feel about your own writing skills, reading that might have made you feel better or worse. But whether you believe writing skills are the product of inherent talent or years of practice, there are simple steps you can take to ensure you score regular gigs. These steps really don’t have anything to do with talent, but they do indicate whether you are a professional.

As a managing editor of a major website, I sought out professionals. Typos, misspellings, factual errors, and sloppy writing are all hallmarks of unprofessionalism. You don’t want that label.

You want to be the opposite of that. You want to stand out from the crowd because you do care and you do comb through every detail of your work. Remember, an editor is typically overworked and overwhelmed. He or she is likely primarily looking for a reason to delete emails, and secondarily looking for quality materials.

6 Things to Look for Before You Hit Send

Here are six things you should look for in your article, manuscript, pitch, or query before you hit the send button. These might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often I see them in my inbox. And let’s be real, we all know we’ve committed at least a couple of these.

  1. Spelling – Misspellings are an instant reason for an editor to hit “delete.” Keep an eye out especially for things that spellcheckers won’t recognize, such as “their” instead of “there.”
  2. Adjectives and adverbs – These should not be the heart of your writing. Superfluous use of them is the sign of an immature writer (in years or in experience). Delete as many as you can.
  3. Grammar – I don’t expect all writers to be grammar nerds, but I do expect them to have a general understanding of their craft. Look for non-sequiturs and noun-verb agreement in particular.
  4. Repetition – Repetitive use of the same word is another sign of either a young writer or someone who hasn’t reread and refined her draft. If you see the same word popping up, it’s time to bust out your thesaurus.
  5. Clichés – By definition, clichés bring nothing new to your work. Delete them all.
  6. Incorrect clichés – It is not a “mute point” and there’s no such thing as “intensive purposes.”

Aside from all that technical stuff, there’s another level editors look for in potential writers. They look for people they actually want to work with. People they might even enjoy working with. This is something you should seek out, as well, because if someone enjoys working with you, he or she may hire you again.

If you can handle that on top of having an excellent query letter and article, then you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with a small percentage of capable people any editor would be eager to hire.

Photo of “Monkey-typing” by New York Zoological Society – Picture on Early Office Museum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Copyright 2015 Hunt Gather Brew