How to edit your own writing

In my work helping clients craft messaging to drive growth, I do a lot of editing. My clients are founders, small business owners, and leaders who write all the time. They’re good at what they do.

But time and time again, I catch things in their work. Once we’ve make small changes, it gets 10x better.

Your work probably involves writing, whether you think it does or not. You might write for your website, newsletter, Twitter, Facebook, Keynote decks, and sales pitches. And if you’re technical, you’re still writing Slack DMs, texts, and plenty of work emails.

All of these forms of writing require skill. You need to get your message across in a way that makes sense for your audience, platform, and outcome. Unfortunately, beyond the basics of grammar and punctuation, as professionals we’re not taught the nuances of how to be persuasive with our words.

My private coaching clients have a direct line to me in situations when framing a message can really move the needle. We edit and polish, remove the anxiety about what to say (and how to say it), and get it shipped.

But not everyone has someone they can turn to for high-stakes messaging. I’ve said before that you should be your own mentor. I think you should be your own editor too.

In this post, I want to start off with WHY it’s a worth your time to learn how to edit your own writing.

1. It’s not "just" writing. It’s how you advance your agenda and sell your ideas.

Have you ever done a group project? Then you know the person who presents gets all the credit.

It’s incredibly frustrating and unfair, but it’s true. The teacher and class can’t help but associate the speaker with the one who must have led the project.

If you don’t know the game being played, it’s hard to win the game.

The same is true for knowing how you’re being perceived. Every interaction people have with you either adds to, or erodes, your credibility. Each interaction represents who you are.

This is why I believe so strongly that to get to the next level, leaders need to think about their writing and the words they use.

You’ll want to consider elements like:

  • Tone

  • Content

  • Context

  • Sub-context

  • Positive or negative connotations

  • Power dynamics

  • Calls to action

  • Hinting vs being direct

  • Metaphor

  • Length as a strategy

  • Sequence

  • Format

  • Imagery

  • FOMO

  • Pre-selling

  • Appealing to worldviews and ego

  • Cognitive dissonance


....and more considerations. These are all tools available to you. They have nothing to do with the quality of your ideas, but a huge impact on how your ideas (and you) are perceived.

2. It’s a skill you’ll use with high frequency and high magnitude.

“Persuasion” isn't only done with a capital P in a board room. Persuasion happens in micro moments every day. For example:

  • Seeking alignment with someone over Slack: "Should I walk over and talk to them? How can I say this over DM? Can I tell them to hold off without sounding like a jerk?”

  • Giving feedback: “The work wasn’t great. How do I tell them I need to see high quality output?”

  • Advocating for your ideas: “I really think we should do this. How can I bring it up so my boss will be amicable to my idea?”

  • Navigating your personal life: “My friend is asking if I’m cool with this plan, and I’m not. How do I write a text that sounds positive—but makes them realize they’re being unreasonable?”

  • Crafting important emails: "I can't believe I've spent five hours on this email..."

Every piece of writing, ideally, is an opportunity to sell: to sell your credibility, to sell why your direct report should be excited about a task, to sell why a coworker should help you. You should invest in learning how to accurately express yourself and get the reaction you’re hoping for.

That’s really your one job anyway: to inspire others. Every piece of writing and every word you say is an opportunity to do that.

3. You’ll be more self-reliant.

If you want higher impact hours in your day, this is it. The faster you edit your own work, the faster you can get important notes out the door. You’ll reduce the likelihood of miscommunication, hurt feelings, and confusion. You'll be clear on what you want your recipient to do (the outcome) once they receive your memo.

True to why you should be your own mentor, sometimes you don’t have a colleague who can help take a look at your email before you hit “send” or “publish.” When you self-edit, you’ll reduce the cycles of back-and-forth editing. Even if you do ask a friend to take a look, it’ll be much tighter to begin with. Their feedback will only make it stronger.

If you’re asked to be a second pair of eyes, your feedback will be more useful if you’re operating from shared expectations, strategies, concepts, etc. You’ll be able to point out nuances in the message that others can’t see. So it's useful for all parties to know the basics of how to craft a strong message for work and life.

Takeaway:

Most of us write daily, but just because everyone writes, doesn’t mean we do it well. Almost all of us could benefit from getting better at it because today’s battles are fought and won (or lost) with words.

While it's faster in the short run and easier for me to edit my clients’ writing, I realized it’s more helpful for them to learn how to self-edit. And, it's useful for their in-house teams to learn so they can help each other level up. I hope the principles in this series help you notice nuances in your own writing, and in your team’s.

Now that you're (hopefully) convinced this is a skill worth improving, stay tuned for Part II for strategies and frameworks of how to implement...

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.