7 Steps to Squeaky Clean Copy
I have a confession to make.
Though I love reading blogs, I sometimes read them from behind the eyes of someone who makes their living with language. Writing great copy is important, and much like a special effects artist who has a difficult time losing themselves in a film, it is sometimes hard for me to ignore the nagging little details that keep a writer’s words from speaking as clearly as their author intended.
It isn’t punctuation or lack of mechanics that bother me. I’m a writer, but even I think English is a bit confounding, carrying more exceptions than rules. Yet there is, I believe, an essential truth to blogging. Blogging is about communication. Effective communication is reliant upon clear ideas and lucid delivery.
A writer must situate their words in a way that makes the reader feel like they are adjacent to the writer, listening to every word while never once wanting to interrupt. These seven steps can help you take your copy from crusty to clean.
1) Be willing to ramble before you can wrangle. Your thoughts might lie in a tangled mess, but you must get them out of your head and onto the screen before you can start sorting. The first draft is not a time to measure perfection, it is a time to write. Editing comes next. If you can construct your thoughts with perfection the first time through, then perhaps that is an indication the value of your content isn’t quite as high it could be. Revision while writing is a pillow on the face of pure thought.
2) Edit your words as though someone else wrote them. Every word isn’t golden and word count doesn’t matter. It is the density of ideas that will make your writing remarkable. 250 or 1250, make every word count. I promise you, there is fat in your first draft. Cut it.
3) Not just lean, but strong as well. You’re off the treadmill, now head to the weight room where a few key changes can pack a bit of power in your prose. Stay far from weak words, opt instead for vocabulary with muscle. Us, are, were, it – these words cast with abandon will cause your copy to grow timid. Strong words are the scaffolding to a strong voice. Own the action. Use active language rather than passive. For some examples of correct passive versus active language, check out this page.
4) Don’t attempt to sound smarter than you are. I would guess every beginning writer does this. I know I did, but I drank from a bottle when I was a baby too. My general rule, never use words I wouldn’t use in regular conversation. Stephen King has a law I rather like. “If you had to use a thesaurus to find it, you’re using the wrong word.” Artfully arranged and long winded are not the same thing.
5) Read out loud. I don’t publish a word on any of my blogs until I’ve read the copy out loud. I read my highest profile stuff to my wife, but I’ve no qualms about splitting the silence of an empty room in exchange for incredible copy. Invariably, my mouth catches much of the minutia my mind’s inclined to miss.
6) Print it out. My writing partner, David prints his stories while editing, a trick he learned in the newsroom. Reading on the computer screen can become tiresome and many of us tend to gloss over mistakes that would stick out in print. Print your copy, mark it up, then dip in for one last online edit.
7) Stay True. Be yourself. Like it or not, everyone else is spoken for. If you try to write for an audience of everyone, you will be lucky to be writing for an audience of anyone. Writing to please a fickle public is a slippery slope with jagged teeth of slate at the bottom.
Collective Inkwell Community Question: Do any of these seven steps ring true to you? What steps would you suggest for getting your copy squeaky clean?
Sean Platt is a ghostwriter and father, who believes life’s better with the right words.
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