By Gaby Doman
I have become my mother. I’m not sure how it happened. As a child, I remember handing her stories and poems I was proud of and stating “JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK OF THE WRITING, NOT ABOUT THE STRUCTURE AND SPELLING.” I was clear about it. But, alas, mum would only ever see the errors. She didn’t understand my art, my creative license, my complete apathy for these stifling rules. Tut.
Twenty-five years later, I see now that editing does matter; it allows the content to shine without the distractions of clunky word flow or typos. Nowadays, I find editing fun. I don’t know if it’s the control freak in me or just the enjoyment of being right but, either way, my love of editing definitely comes from a dark place.
But, as much as I love it, editing hasn’t come naturally to me. I still message my mum or my sisters (both English teachers) with my editing queries. It’s something I am constantly trying to improve on. But in the meantime, I am cheating my way to excellence.
Here are the proofreading and editing hacks I use to zhush up my copy, whether I am working on my own or someone else’s work:
1 Imagine Michael will read it
The chances are you don’t know my colleague Michael Sosnick, but he is my secret weapon when editing.
I always ask everyone on the content team to “seagull” (shit all over) everything I write. It’s masochistic, but it hones my eagle eye when editing my own work. Michael is an excellent editor and very honest with his feedback, delivering fair criticism with humor. Sometimes it might be a “yuck” about a bad pun I made or something a little too flowery; other times it might be a suggestion to ditch an adjective or two. He’s invariably right.
I’ve worked with a few people in my career whose exceptionally high standards mean you can never get complacent, and he’s one of them. This feedback teaches you not to get attached to your work and to read everything thoroughly. He’s basically continuing the good work my mother started. Imagining a critical eye over my work really helps me raise my game before I submit.
If you don’t have a Michael Sosnick of your own, I’d suggest comparing the piece you submitted with the published piece so you can notice patterns and see where you need to clean up your copy.
2 Double-check everything with Grammarly
On one hand, I worry about the robots taking my job one day soon, but on the other, they are so handy for picking up my human errors. It’s a complex relationship.
I never publish anything without running it through Grammarly first — it’s my new favorite tool. The free version picks up all the basic errors — typos, passive voice and long, boring sentences. While it isn’t good enough to replace me yet (thank goodness), it’s pretty good for catching anything I missed when proofreading.
3 Cut words
The best thing that ever happened to my writing and editing skills was to land a job in advertising. Sure, it was soul destroying, but once I left and rediscovered what it is to be happy, I could create short, snappy copy. Ad copywriting teaches you to convey complex ideas in as few words as possible. It’s hard — writing two words takes me far longer than writing 500. To learn the skill without the 18-hour work days and casual sexism, scour each and every sentence for what you can drop.
Here’s an example I edited:
Exploring Kyoto, we were reminded of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Chiang Mai literally has an ornate temple every 5 feet as well. We kept saying either this is the Chiang Mai of Japan or Chiang Mai is the Kyoto of Thailand.
The number of ornate temples in Kyoto reminded us of walking through Chiang Mai.
Treating every sentence like a tweet makes it easy to keep your work clear and concise.
Do you have editing or proofing hacks you swear by? Let us know so we can share the knowledge!