Lamott calls it the “shitty first draft.” Which is good to know because that means even the best of us start with shitty first drafts. Don’t lose faith in your shitty first draft, for today, I’m going to help you turn it into a good story.
This idea all started when I created a screencast for my client, Jen, owner of Sanctuary Bistro, a vegan restaurant in Berkeley, California <- you should try if you live in the Bay Area. We are helping Jen create a bigger voice in the vegan community so I recorded my process for editing her recent first draft, which I won’t go so far as to call shitty. It was not.
We decided I should share this recording here so others could get a glimpse into one way of editing. Mind you, there is no wrong or right way. This is the way I do it, and the focus here is on editing for story, not so much grammar and technical rules. It’s OK to break rules now and then. I just want Jen to do a better job putting her story in writing.
Writing the Headline
Sometimes the headline comes to you immediately but sometimes it takes forever. Give your headline the time it deserves because this is how people find you.
For search engines: If you want people to find you by way of organic search, you need to use good keywords in your headline. In the video, even though I don’t say it out loud, I show you how to use Google Autocomplete. By typing into your search bar, Google will suggest keywords based on popular searches. This is ideal for those of you who don’t have the time or technical expertise to perform keyword research.
For social networks: Creative, mysterious and fun headlines are good for getting clickthroughs on social networks. Think about what would make you click on a headline and keep that in mind.
You might have a combination of both or sometimes one post will lean one way and another post another way. Use your best judgement for your audience and the particular topic. I wrote more about headlines here.
Read It Out Loud
Ideally, you should be writing in a conversational tone. By reading out loud, oddities and issues in your writing will become apparent. Fix the flow and the following problems that might arise:
Watch for consistency in a variety of ways. when you have a long sentence broken up by commas with three clauses, for example (as you’ll see in the video) make sure each clause is structured consistently. Sub heads in sections should be consistent – all nouns, all start with active verbs, etc. Bullet point lists should be all full sentences or all not. All should end with periods or all not.
Fixing repetitive issues forces you to get more creative with words. If your sentences keep starting with “it,” that’s uninspiring writing. Change it up. If you use the same phrase or word several times, change it up. You’ll notice in the video, Jen uses the words “it” and “this” frequently. I don’t mind this in the first draft, but when you are editing, ask yourself what is “it” or “this” referring to and see if you need to get more specific. Being more specific forces you to use better quality words and your writing becomes more interesting I wrote How to Be A Better Writer by Being Specific here.
At the end, I go back through and format it up. Use heading 2, 3, and 4 to break up longer posts (bonus points when keywords are in these sub-headings!), bullet point lists whenever necessary, and break up any paragraphs that are too long. The preview button is your friend for this. You want to take some time to style your writing so it’s pleasing to the eye.
Edit the first draft
With that, I leave you with this video and here are all my disclaimers. This is what we do when we start our trail runs – we all share how much we drank last night, or how bad our knee hurts – the disclaimers:
- I had no intention of sharing this video when I first made it. So, it’s pretty raw and obviously totally un-rehearsed.
- I sometimes can’t find my words when I speak – that’s why writing for a blog is so much easier.
- There is no right or wrong way to edit. You may or may not agree with everything I did and you probably have ideas for doing it better. That’s OK, too.
- I really just wanted to share my approach to editing the first draft to a better story. This is not a perfect. Also, it’s long. 25 minutes. It won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t watch. That’s why I wrote this recap.
I welcome your questions and added tips in the comments.
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