What to do after you write and before you publish.
You wrote something — congratulations!
Now, let’s make it better.
- Remove 10% of the words.
No matter how succinct your writing, a 10% reduction in words is not only possible, but likely to improve what you wrote.
Bonus points if you remove 20%.
- Make the middle the beginning (or not).
If you were forced to shift a few sentences from the middle of what you wrote to the beginning of your piece, which portion would you choose?
Does it make for a more compelling opening?
If so, make it your new intro. If not, move on to the next exercise.
- Compare your first and last paragraphs.
Do they reflect each other or did you lose your way somewhere in the course of writing?
Your opening and closing don’t need to say the exact same thing, but there should be a clear relationship between them.
For inspiration, check out how filmmakers employ symmetry and thematic purpose between the first and last shots of their movies:
Once you identify the connection between your first and last paragraph, consider this: What if you flipped them and made the first paragraph the last and vice versa?
Would it improve what you wrote? Maybe.
- Kill the “softeners.”
Most writing includes phrases that serve no purpose other than to soften your message. They’re not doing you any favors — remove them.
Here are a few to hunt down:
- “I think…”
- “I believe…”
- “As a matter of fact…”
- “As I said before…”
- “After all…”
While you’re at it, you also may want to check out How To Become A Better Writer.
- “He” can be “she” or “they.”
Check what you wrote for any gender (or other) unintended assumptions.
It’s just as easy to reference a generic executive as being a “she” as it is a “he.”
This isn’t about political correctness, it’s about ensuring your writing isn’t rooted in stereotypical or unnecessary assumptions.
- Amplify your three boldest statements.
Pick the three strongest statements you made in your writing and make them even bolder.
Push a controversial opinion further.
Make a prediction more definitive.
Draw a line in the sand.
Your strongest statements are your point of view and are what’s most likely to capture a reader’s attention, get your piece noticed and talked about it.
- Bring in the experts.
Make your writing about more than yourself.
Include at least two references to stories, examples, facts, or statistics that come from other sources or other people’s lives.
This will increase your credibility.
Even if you share a personal story, incorporate outside references to make it more powerful.
The tale of that crazy thing that happened at your wedding may benefit from an interesting stat about the wedding industry as a whole.
An essay about your unique writing process will be more interesting if it incorporates a comparison to the crazy ways other writers find inspiration.
Don’t limit your writing to your own experience.
- Bare it all (at least twice).
Did you write something vulnerable?
Include at least two instances where you reveal something about yourself.
Admit a mistake, share a struggle, be brutally honest, or incorporate something human and flawed.
I’ll share one with you right now:
Prior to writing this post I rarely used any of these tactics when editing my work and it shows. Going through these exercises (ironically, on this post) has made it infinitely better than the earlier drafts I would typically have published.
Even if you position yourself as an “expert,” sharing vulnerabilities increases your credibility and makes your writing more compelling.
Perfect is boring.
If you find this particularly difficult to do, try an exercise author and professor Stacey D’Erasmo found incredibly powerful: Write anonymously.
She had her students submit a piece of writing without their name attached to it and discovered their writing suddenly was drastically improved.
“Much that was awkward, dull, strained, and frankly boring fell away. It was like watching people who thought they couldn’t dance dancing beautifully in the dark,” she said.
- Read it as a letter.
Pretend what you wrote was a letter written to your target audience.
Write “Dear [insert target audience],” at the top of the post and re-read it.
Does it work as a letter?
If not, adjust accordingly.
Because everything you write is only consumed by one person at a time — just like a letter.
(But don’t forget to delete that “Dear ___” line before you publish it!)
- A two surprise minimum.
Did you include at least least two things that will genuinely surprise readers or be something they haven’t heard before?
If not, you’ve got more work to do.
If so, move on to the next exercise.
- Write a 280-character version of the post.
Even if you don’t use Twitter, pretend you do.
Draft a tweet that delivers the core value of what you wrote in 280 characters or less.
Frame it in a way that doesn’t just “promote” what you wrote, but is something people would be likely to share or reply to…even without clicking a link to the actual full article.
Once you draft this “tweet,” consider the following:
- Is the core of your “tweet” reflected in what you wrote?
- Is the core of your “tweet” reflected in your headline?
- Do you promise a value or result in the headline?
A headline isn’t a description of what you wrote — it’s a promise of the benefit someone gets from consuming it.
If your current headline doesn’t promise a clear value or result, it’s a bad headline.
If it does reference a value or result, look for ways to exaggerate, amplify, or make that value more specific.
This is not easy — headlines are hard and I struggled for a while to figure out how to headline this very post that you’re reading.
(My original headline for this post was “Read This After You Write Something And Before You Publish It,” but I realized there’s no specific value or result promised in that headline so it was back to the drawing board!)
Instead of a headline that promises to help people save time, promise to help them free up 60 minutes a day.
Instead of a headline about the biggest mistake you ever made ordering at a restaurant, write one that promises the opportunity to learn how to avoid ordering the wrong thing at any new restaurant they go to.
My most popular post ever doesn’t just offer writing tips, it promises the two minutes it takes to read will improve your writing forever.
- Have you told people what to do next?
What do you want someone to do after they consume your writing?
Whether it’s to join your email list, purchase a product, follow you on social media, share it with their friends, or support a cause, there should be an action you want them to take and it should be messaged in your writing.
Make it clear, specific, easy, and a logical extension of what they just consumed.
They’ll do it. But only if you ask.
You went to all this trouble to make the thing you wrote better, so don’t miss out on the chance to connect with the people who appreciate your effort.