Making Yourself a Ruthless Copyeditor

Most people can't afford their own copyeditor, so they need to learn how to be their own ruthless, relentless copyeditor – and be happy.Oftentimes the only thing standing between you and abject embarrassment is your copyeditor. For most people, you can say hello to your copyeditor in the mirror.

It is a luxury to have an actual copyeditor to look over your writing, correct spelling and grammar, tighten sentences and point out incomplete thoughts. But most people don't have a copy editor. They just have a laptop or smartphone — and a deadline. 

Writing, for many people, is a chore or even a burden. For others, it is a breeze, accomplished seemingly without much exertion. The tortoise and the hare writers can both suffer the same fate — missing words, tangled sentences and jumbled thinking. Here are a few tips that can help:

1. Before writing anything, know what you want to say

The best writing is writing about what you know. That includes knowing what you want to say — What's your main point? Why it is important? What do you want your reader to take away? Create an outline, record your thoughts or just scribble notes. If you have a basic idea of what you want to say, the writing part is a lot easier.

2. Write what you want to say quickly

Once you have decided what you want to say, sit down and write, as quickly as possible to complete your full thought. Now you have something to work with. It's not a polished final product, but it is a full expression of your idea. 

3. Step back and ask yourself whether you can say it better

Don't fiddle with correcting spelling and placing commas. Push back from your laptop keyboard and imagine better ways to make your point. One of the best places to look is your last paragraph, where you often find your best line or phrase. In journalism, this is called burying the lead, but it is a natural part of writing. Your muscles get warmed up writing on a subject and you often end on a high note. Evaluate that high note to see if it would serve as a better place to begin.

4. Attack your copy like a mad dog

With your best overall presentation of what you want to say, claw into the actual word choices and sentences like a dog looking for a long-lost bone. Did you pick the most descriptive active verb? Are your sentences too wordy? Have you used a mixed metaphor? Are your sentences in the right order? Did you spell all the words correctly or are there still red lines under some words?

5. Walk away from the work and then come back with a fresh eye

This can be a day or a few minutes. But a break from the intensity gives your mind a chance to remember a fact you forgot to include or an analogy that could replace a paragraph while adding richer understanding. It also will increase the chances that you’ll see what actually is written down, not what you meant to say. This is the final-touch editing process where you make sure your words shine.

While everyone can't be a great writer, just about everyone can be a good copyeditor. It will do a great deal of good for your writing.