Writing has always come naturally to me. Editing myself hasn't.
Growing up, I used a lot of big words. And a lot of small words. I used all the words, all the time. I got good grades, but it wasn't until my senior year of High School that I started to learn how to write. How to really write: it was the first time I got papers back that were swimming in a sea of red ink. My AP English teacher, Ms. Webster, was kind of my hero, and she's the one who taught me the power of saying more with fewer words. The power of the red pen!
She taught me to cross out every single unnecessary word in a sentence. She gave me a pen and had my physically cross out words on my physically printed out paper. I was 17: I thought they were all necessary - until I started looking at them with a critical eye, red pen in hand, Ms. Webster's voice in my head. This is how I learned the power of words, the power of saying more with less. She's still the one I think of when I edit my own work. She's the one who taught me about word economy, even if I didn't then know that that's what it was called. She's also the one that first taught me to edit my work in a different medium than I wrote it in, in order to help see it differently.
Editing can be tough. I don't know that I've ever felt a piece of mine was complete. Whether it's a blog post, work email, or thank you note, I will almost always find something to change, cut, or better if I come across it again. Even if I felt in the moment that the piece was as good as it gets, something usually surfaces later that I wish I'd done differently. But you know, that's the nature of writing: it's a miniature time capsule of who you are in the moment. As we grow, age, and continue learning, so will our writing change.
All of which is to say that when I came across the Talking Shrimp's (Laura Belgray's) Guide to Non-Sucky Copy (it's free!), I thought of Ms. Webster over and over again. I've learned a lot from it, and I go back to it often to digest and absorb something new. Words are powerful, but their power diminishes as their number grows. Belgray's comments on the passive voice and her examples of how to use fewer words for maximum impact are powerful. I learn something every day in my line of work, but the work of learning to edit myself will never be done. I'm always grateful for another perspective, and if you are too don't hesitate to download this free guide.
(I'm a bit sick of these Keep Calm signs myself, but this one made me chuckle. What is it about editing that feels so threatening?! Friends! Do not fear the red pen!)