To Improve Your Writing, Stand Outside of It: 7 Tips

Improve Your Writing

Sometimes the best way to improve your writing is to stop editing and tackle it from a completely different perspective.

The Limits of Editing and Revising

When I wrote my first book, I figured that after almost a year of revising and editing, I pretty much had it nailed.

Then I went on to write the marketing description, recorded some short videos, did interviews and created a presentation around the content. And that process caused me to rethink a few things. I thought of better ways to present some of the ideas and sharpen the writing and I came up with a few new anecdotes.

Now the book is good, and I’m very proud of it, but if I had the chance to go back and tweak it here and there, I would have. But alas, it was already off to the printer.

A New Approach

So for my new book (current title: The 11 Deadly Presentation Sins: A Path to Redemption for Public Speakers) I’m doing things differently. First, I drafted the marketing description before I even started writing. Then I decided that after the second draft, I would put the book aside and create the presentation to accompany it.

And that has helped me tremendously. Just a couple of days ago, in fact, I had an epiphany about how to connect two of the central ideas. It’s something that seems obvious in retrospect, but I may never have discovered it without looking at things from a different angle.  And I’ve come up with a lot of smaller revisions that will improve the final product.

There’s an important lesson here for writers. If you’re working on something big, something important, try tackling it from multiple formats and viewpoints. It’s guaranteed to open your mind to new ways of thinking.

7 Ways to Expand Your Perspective and Improve Your Writing

Here are a few approaches to try:

  1. Put it in presentation form. That will challenge you to organize and express your ideas in a different way than you might for readers.
  2. Read it out loud. I recently read about an author who found the process of recording his audio book helped him go back and sharpen his writing.
  3. Write a one-page summary, a three-paragraph summary and a one-paragraph summary. Each step will help you distill your thinking further.
  4. Take that one-page summary and internalize it. Don’t memorize it word-for-word; just go over it in your head repeatedly. Say it to yourself at the gym, in the shower, when you’re driving or walking. After you’ve got it down and can do it almost without thinking, write it out and compare that version to your original. What’s different? How has your thinking evolved? How does that affect the long-form version?
  5. Think about how you would express your ideas to a different audience. If it’s written for insiders, how would you explain it to someone who knows nothing about the subject? If it’s written for a group of strangers, how would you say it to a specific individual—a neighbor, friend or family member?
  6. Experiment with other forms. How would you say it an email or in a voicemail or on a web page or even a poster?
  7. Consider starting over. You don’t have to rewrite the whole thing, of course, but write the introduction or first few pages as if you were starting from a blank slate. Compare it to the original and see where it’s better.

Keep Experimenting

Of course, the same principle applies to any form of writing. If you’re creating a presentation, try it as written document. If you’re scripting a video, how might it come out as a web page?

Editing can be tough slogging when you get past the third or fourth draft. So if you have the time, try changing things up. Beyond providing fresh insights, the process might just keep you more interested and engaged.


Photo Credit: Christophe Kiciak via Compfightcc