The Three Stages of Editing (and Nine Handy Do-it-Yourself Tips)

Note: This post was originally published in 2014, and was updated in March 2018.

Whether you love editing or hate it, if you’re a writer, there’s no way to avoid it.

You may well have support – from beta readers, your spouse, your writers’ circle, or a professional editor – but a fair amount of editing needs to be done alone.

I find that “editing” encompasses three distinct stages. If you’re writing a blog post, each of these might take minutes; for a novel, they might take months … but however long or short your work, they’re all important.

The three stages are:

  1. Rewriting – adding and cutting whole chunks (scenes, chapters, paragraphs), and moving and reworking material.
  2. Editing – this is what I think of as “true” editing: reworking individual paragraphs and sentences, adding or cutting smaller sections.
  3. Proofreading – checking that what you think you wrote is what you actually wrote, and fixing typos and spelling mistakes.

Each stage requires a different approach, and here’s how I suggest you tackle them.

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Should You Ever Edit While You’re Writing?

A lot of writers will insist that you should never, ever edit when you’re writing.

You can even use software that disables the backspace key, or that starts eating your words if you don’t type fast enough (Write or Die).

Personally, I think a rather more balanced approach is fine!

While too much editing when you’re writing can be a real problem, if you’re occasionally hopping back a few sentences to tweak something, or if you backspace every so often to fix a typo, that’s fine. (I type fast, which means I tend to end up correcting mistakes several times in a sentence…)

Here are my rules of thumb for keeping writing and editing as distinct as reasonably possible:

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My BlogWorld Session: Four Simple Steps for Editing Your Own Writing

Last month, I had a wonderful time at BlogWorld in New York. I spoke on Four Simple Steps for Editing Your Own Writing and had some great feedback from attendees.

If you struggle a bit with editing, or if you’re not quite sure where to begin, I hope you’ll find the presentation useful too. 🙂

Watch the Video (Slideshow Plus Audio)

Click this link to watch the video (or right-click to download it).

Listen to the Audio

If you prefer to just get the audio, you can listen to it here (or right-click to download it).

Note that, ideally, you’ll also want to download the slides so you can follow along.

Download the Slides

You can download my slides by right-clicking here. (They’re in PowerPoint, ppt, format.)


The above video is only one of over 100 recorded sessions from BlogWorld & New Media Expo New York 2012. You can get all of the videos – plus bonus interviews and other bonus content by picking up the entire Virtual Ticket here.


How to Cut the Waffle From Your Writing – and Grab Readers’ Attention

(Image from Flickr by Unhindered by Talent)

Have you ever read a book that was way too wordy? (For me, Stephen Covey’s otherwise excellent 7 Habits of Highly Effective People comes to mind…)

The content itself might have been good – but the substance ended up buried beneath a froth of unnecessary words. Perhaps you found it hard to stay focused, or you simply stopped reading.

When you write – especially if you’re writing online – it’s important to avoid waffle. At best, a vague and waffly piece won’t have a strong impact on the reader. At worst, you’ll not only lose readers, they’ll mentally note you down as a writer to avoid.

So, how do you go about cutting the waffle from your writing?

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Are You Over-Editing Your Work?

Red pen on paperImage from Flickr by pheaber

Last week’s post on The Four Essential Stages of Writing got some great comments, including this one from Ainslie:

I must admit that I am beginning to enjoy the redrafting and editing phase of my work a whole lot more since working with you as my Writing Coach, I now spend time looking at specific words and phrases and really making sure if they fit with the message I am conveying.

I am really enjoying the process but worry that the constant redrafting may be holding me back as well.

This brings up a great question: how much redrafting and editing is too much?

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