My friend and coworker Megan asked me a few weeks ago, “Do you have any good book/reading suggestions for editing?”
She is a developer, but her appreciation of language and attention to detail extends beyond coding. She has her own blog, where she writes about web development, WordPress, and other things. She is a sharer of knowledge.
Many of us are in our given fields. Whether you are a developer, baker, horse trainer, or candlestick maker, if you’re truly passionate about something, it’s just natural to want to shout it from your own corner of the web. To do your ideas and knowledge justice, you’ll want to communicate them well.
Where do you start, if you don’t have a formal writing background?
I began thinking about this question in tandem with another question that I was trying to answer for my own self-improvement.
How do you make a budget, if you don’t have a formal background in…money things? Thank you, NerdWallet, for coming to the rescue.
If you haven’t had to play editor before, there are quite a few similarities.
How to Make a Budget and also How to Edit
Step 1: Determine the best budgeting strategy for you, based on your values and goals. Maybe you want to pay off student loan debt, or save up for a fancy schmancy vacation to Denver. Everyone has different philosophies towards money, so while some budgeting practices might seem universally helpful, if they don’t help you achieve your goal, what good are they? Imagine your goal is to pay off your student loans, and by the end of the year, you’ve saved up enough money to open a Quizno’s franchise instead. Um, ok.
Similarly, determine your strategy and standard for editing. If you’re considering writing or editing long-term, becoming familiar with the style guide that suits your topic and tone. Consistency with wording and style goes a long way in establishing your brand, and at the very least, allows you to develop a common language with your readers. Imagine if you clicked on a Wall Street Journal article, and what pops up is a Buzzfeed-esque headline like, “Baby Bangs are Back According to Pinterest So Here’s Some Inspiration.” Um, ok.
Step 2: Figure out what you’ve got to work with, after taxes. Your income is a starting point. Similarly, before you start editing, have your main points written down. Just get it out. Your first draft is the starting point.
Step 3: In budgeting, step 3 is tracking your progress. This is the annoying hard work part that requires you to actively do something. Like download an app or keep a notebook where you record your bills and purchases. Or carry a bunch of categorized envelopes with cash around, as NerdWallet suggests for those who are trying to cut down on spending. See what you can live without. Do you need that another nother shirt?
The progress part of editing is…dun dun DUN…actually editing. Fixing typos and punctuation errors is absolutely important, the equivalent of cutting the beloved but excessive $5 soy lattes out of your weekday routine. However, the exhilaration in editing comes when you can “delete and organize relentlessly” according to writer and marketer Josh Bernoff. Do them in that order — delete what you can first, then reorganize. Then delete some more. As in budgeting, you don’t know what you can live without until you’ve tried it.
Step 4: NerdWallet mentions an important factor in budgeting here: the presence of an accountability buddy.
We all know people who claim to be good with money. Hi, I’m one of those people. When I keep my money mess to myself, it usually stays a mess. When I actually seek out the advice of others, I feel a responsibility to do something. Shame works, ya know?
Involving others in your editing process is equally as motivating. As much as I’d like to be my own Anna Wintour, there’s no replacement for a fresh set of trustworthy eyeballs. Give someone else a peek at your edited work and see what they think could be cut.
Step 5: Adjust your budget as needed. Once you’ve achieved one financial goal, go back to steps 1 and 2. Let’s say you knock those student loans out in five years. Now what? First of all, don’t tell all your other college friends that you knocked out your student loans in five years because they don’t want to hear that ish. Second, figure out your next goal, and make changes to move toward it.
Depending on what you’re writing, and who you’re writing it for, your editing process may change. Keep your goal in mind as you adapt as needed.
You know what? This post seems prettaaaay long. I felt good about it at first, but now I want to cross out all the filler nonsense above and just boil it down:
Red isn’t always bad, if you learn from it and…
ALWAYS. BE. EDITING.
PS – To actually answer Megan’s question, there are online tests like this one from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders that allow you to test your editing skills.
Aspiring editors should also make a habit of reading as much as they can by writers that they admire. I personally believe that everybody should read Everybody Writes, which is Ann Handley’s super digestable guide to writing (and editing!) in today’s business world. My next word nerd books will be A World Without “Whom” and Dreyer’s English. If you have other recommendations, let me know!