What I learned editing your writing

Photo by Thomas Martinsen on Unsplash

Over the past two years, since I started Typewriter.plus with my wife, I’ve been editing books, blog posts, manuals, white papers, and emails. It’s been a wild ride and I was overwhelmed by the interest in the service. We’ve edited a book about why it’s great to live in Norway, blog posts that announced major upgrades to a massive messaging system, and we’ve even interviewed some amazing software engineers for a unique project for a massive software company. In short, I’ve been able to see a gamut of writing, writing styles, and skill levels and I’ve found out a few things about my chosen profession. First, the bad news…

  1. The written word is fading… but not as fast as we think. I’m a firm believer in the written word. I’ve made my bread writing on a daily basis and for that I’m ever thankful. But I worry, like the Nothing in the NeverEnding Story, that a storm is on the horizon that will raze the written word to the ground.

The problem? We humans don’t like to read. Sure there are a vast number of you that don’t agree with this at all but as we move further and further away from the printed word we will find ourselves consuming more video than text. YouTube is popular because it’s quickly replacing television as our daily activity and, if we’re going to get all Amusing Ourselves To Death about things, the human mind still craves visual stimulation above all. But the sheer glut of video that comes out of the visual web is overwhelming. Why read when you can watch?

That said, we can stop this simply by supporting and rewarding great writing. I always knew writing was hard but doing it wholesale is a difficult job. I’ve recently subscribed to both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post and I try to pay for subscriptions to websites wherever I see them. I want to reward good, careful writing and if we don’t want the written word to die we all need to chip in. Never underestimate how much people crave well-written stuff. It’s what got us through dark times over the past few centuries and it will continue to do so as long as we support it.

2. Good writing can make or break a product. One client I worked with released a number of huge changes to their app. They tried to explain the changes in simple English but they couldn’t get the tone right. These changes were impressive — think millions of users being affected — but they couldn’t explain the importance of their new version.

Clear, concise explanations are best but you also have to be human when you write. Website copy or a blog post is not a set of stereo instructions. It is a living document that is your first line of contact with your customers. If it’s poorly written or poorly edited then you end up with a mess.

People love good writing and they ignore bad writing. Write badly at your peril.

3. Coaching isn’t just for athletes. I’ve been helping companies big and small with their media and presentation plans and I’ve found that everyone — from the biggest corporation to the smallest startup — needs a coach. I actually run my own writing through my own service now, allowing my editors to comment and change what I’ve written. It’s humbling but exciting and I’m learning a great deal.

Check this out:

This is an edited page from my latest novel, Nayzun. I thought it was going to be a clean edit but it’s full of mistakes. My amazing editor, Sharon Honeycutt, dug through my writing with a fine-toothed comb. Without her my books would be awful. Everyone needs that kind of careful attention.

4. You need to write more. You need to write 1,000 words a day. I understand this is daunting and I understand this is scary but it’s an imperative if you plan on writing anything for your business or personal life. Practice, practice, practice, as they say.

I write more than a 1,000 words a day but that’s how I’m wired. However, if you find yourself stuck, just write. If you find yourself frustrated, just write. If you find your product or business in a rut, just write. Get it out, fix it up, and put it out there. Communicate with the world and the world will respond.

5. You already write well. Don’t worry so much. As long as you write like you talk you’ll be fine. My rule of thumb for writing is to pour it all out at once, making it as awful as possible, and then go back to edit. I like to use Scrivener to outline my longer pieces and then I just fill things in. I made a tutorial here. This sort of non-linear editing lets me work on a few parts at once, skipping from place to place as necessary. It’s a great way to write and it’s helped me keep away from writer’s block for decades.

Here’s the truth: you are already a good writer. You just need a little help. Whether we help you or your office mate checks out your writing before you ship it is immaterial. But with a little work we can all communicate exactly what we mean when we mean it, a feat that is far more important and most of us imagine.

Need help? Hit us up or email me at john@biggs.cc. Hugs.


What I learned editing your writing was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.