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Category: Writing Technique

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.

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

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.

How Your Article Introduction Is Just Like “Fight Club”

The first rule of Fight Club is – nobody talks about Fight Club.

The first rule of intros is – nobody wants to feel like they’re reading an intro.

So, what does it mean for something to “feel like it’s an intro”?

Well, basically, said another way, you don’t want to start out with the obvious (all that on-the-nose stuff).

The Fight Club Rules of Intros

Think about it – how many items have you clicked on an article because the title was intriguing, but then you never finished reading the whole piece (or maybe didn’t even make it through the first paragraph) because the opening sentence made you think, “Well, duh?”

Starting out with the obvious isn’t exciting. It doesn’t provoke thought or shares. It doesn’t make anyone say, “OMG, you have to read this!” Instead, it makes you say, “I knew that already,” and click away.

Rather than fall victim to the “duh” factor, you need to kick off your article or blog entry in a way that piques the reader’s interest. That makes her think, “Dang, I’ve got to read this,” or, “This is something I don’t know.”

How to Grab Your Readers From the Top

  • Tell your reader something she doesn’t know.
  • Share something she does know, but in a whole new way.
  • Share a statistic that will shock her.
  • Share something funny.
  • Make her laugh.
  • Make her say, “Wow.”

The theme that runs through all those ideas for how to start your article is something called the curiosity gap. This is the gap between what your readers know and what they don’t know. If you can trigger that gap, then your readers are more likely to get pulled into your article.

They think, “Wait, I didn’t know that. I need to read more.” Or, “Wait, what’s the answer to that question? I better find out.”

Especially if it means your reader winds up knowing something more than her friends. And I don’t mean that in a condescending way, but rather, in the way that Malcolm Gladwell talks about “mavens.” Mavens are people who love to share new knowledge with the rest of us. We see them as authorities and count on them to keep us in the know. They help us fill that curiosity gap. So, conversely, they seek out that gap.

Think about that. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have those people who are most highly regarded as authorities being the people who spread your article?

That said, sometimes the curiosity gap gets a real bad rap since it’s used to create a lot of click-baity headlines and slick sales materials. But the powers of the gap don’t have to be used for evil. The gap can simply be a way to show your readers that you’re an expert on a topic and you have something new to share with them.

Let’s Go Over Those Rules Again

So, what’s the first rule? Nobody wants to feel like they’re reading an intro?

No, what’s the first rule of Fight Club? Oh yeah, nobody talks about Fight Club.

But why? Is there something I should know about Fight Club?

Yeah, there is – and that’s the curiosity gap right there.

Photo by Matthew Walsh (This file was derived from: MMAstandup.png) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

If You Build It, They Probably Won’t Come

There’s a myth about the Internet that if you put up a website people will just magically visit it. There’s another myth about guest posting. That if you write an article for another website, people will just magically gravitate to yours.

Neither of these is reality, and there are a lot of reasons that guest posting fails. But today I’m going to focus on what I believe to be one of the main reasons: you’re stingy with your Internet loving.

If You Build It, They Will Come

Just because you are published on a website as a guest author, doesn’t mean that site’s readers will come to your site. And depending on how you behave, that site may never ask you to guest post again either.

I love the Internet because I believe it is, at its heart, an egalitarian place. All sorts of people can offer each other all sorts of opportunities, and there is space for the “little guy” to build his way up to being a “big shot.” There really is no cap on traffic, audience, readers, or whatever you want to call it. And by helping each other out, we can all contribute to the success of each other. Everyone actually can win on the Internet.

True, some people try to make it otherwise. They want the Internet to work just like Walmart. But most of us can spot those sleaze balls miles away. We know that the stuff we love best is the stuff that’s about giving. It’s about free information and free cross-promotion based on genuinely good people and genuinely good products and/or services.

And when I run into an authentic and generous person or entity on the Internet, the irony is that I’m more willing to pay him/her/them than the person who’s overtly trying to sell me, anyway. You know how it goes: “Wow, I’ve read twenty articles on this site that are awesome, so I’m totally going to buy her eBook when it comes out.”

If You Build It, They May or May Not Care

So what does this have to do with your guest post and why it failed and why no one wants you to guest post again?

If you build something, you’ve got to tell people about it.

The “everyone wins” ability of the Internet is based on generosity. And generosity on the Internet looks like sharing. So if you want your guest post to amount for anything in terms of your own success, it’s got to be a successful experience for the website hosting you, as well.

Spelled out – it means you need to do the following:

  • Post on all your social media about the site you’re guest posting for, even if it’s not the day your guest post goes up.
  • Follow that site on all your social media accounts.
  • Share some of their other posts by other authors (Hey, maybe they’ll follow you back and share your stuff! Wouldn’t that be cool?)
  • Share your own post when it goes up. Do this promptly, frequently, and on all your social media outlets. You’d be shocked at how few people do this. It actually hurts my mind to think about how commonly overlooked this step is.
  • Make the experience of working with you an overall net positive for the hosting website.

Remember, everyone can win, but you have to be interested in others winning and trust that the Internet is not a zero-sum game.

If you approach every guest post with the question, “How can I make this experience awesome for the website hosting me?” then you’re on the right track and they’ll show up to the table with the same question in mind. The result? We all do win, every time.

Breakfast time (7560191024)” by Berit from Redhill/Surrey, UK – Breakfast time. Uploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

What’s in Hemingway’s Wastebasket

I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”
– Ernest Hemingway
 It’s normal for your first draft to have a lot of words. But sometimes it can be challenging to decide which words are the extra words. It makes me think of Amadeus, when the Emporer tells Mozart there are too many notes, and Mozart asks which notes he should remove.

But the truth is – we’re not Mozart. We have a lot of extra notes that can be excised. Especially for those of us writing for the Internet. Extra words can drive people away from your writing, and therefore, your website.

Thankfully, there’s a simple and free online tool you can use to help you figure this out. (And I make no money off this – I just find it a useful app, so I like to share it with my writers and students, particularly when I see them fall victim to repeated words and excessive adverbs.)

For analysis of where your writing might be too complicated and what words you can likely cut, cut and paste your writing into the Hemingway App. I used it the other day on an article and it became apparent right away that certain words were both repeated and unnecessary.

You don’t have to use this tool and it may not be a tool that’s appropriate for you. But for some of you, it may offer some enlightenment.
There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”
– Ernest Hemingway
Copyright 2015 Hunt Gather Brew