Have you ever started with what you thought was an excellent idea for a blog post, only to find yourself meandering, talking about stuff that doesn’t have much to do with your original topic?
Or looking at your finished post and thinking, this is too long, or too cluttered?
I have—many times.
It seems to be the nature of rough drafts. When you first plant your post, you have the seed of an idea. It is small and simple, but with a little care, it will sprout and grow, in all the right places.
But if you wander off topic or use too many words to drive your point home, your post will be an overgrown mess, with too many ideas, too many words.
Too many weeds.
Wait. Don’t pull them yet. Let them stay until you have finished your first draft. Don’t worry about those unwieldy branches. You can always trim them back later.
After you have finished your first draft, they will show their rascally selves: the adverbs and other useless words that Stephen King calls dandelions.
Editing is the perfect way to kill them.
Are you ready? Pull out that draft. Keep the point of your post front and center because you are going to be pulling away everything that tries to strangle it.
How to Kill Your Blog Post’s Dandelions
I know, it probably strikes fear in your heart every time you hear the word editing. But all it really means is giving your post one last look, switching words, removing words, until it is the best it can be.
Here are some things to think about when you come back to your ‘wild rough draft.’ (If you don’t know how to structure your post to support your point, I have some advice for you in The Smart Blogger’s Guide to Creating Exceptional Content):
1. Let it sit.
It’s not easy to do. The clock is ticking. You have two Skype calls and a client project to finish. Your meeting for next week has been moved up.
Still, if you have the time, let your post sit on the back burner. Let it marinate, as you would a good pasta sauce. Even sleep on it if you can.
I can’t tell you how many times I have reread my post one last time and found a different, better way to say something. And often it is five minutes before I click “publish.”
Bonus tip: Write Tuesday’s post over the weekend and Friday’s post on Wednesday so you’ll be ready to make those last-minute edits.
2. Remove everything that does not support your point.
I was writing a post recently for Danny Brown’s new site, Pure Blogging. As usually happens with topics I am passionate about, my post wandered and I told two stories, not one, and my second story didn’t have much to do with my major point. My rough draft was 1,900 words.
So, painfully, I got out the garden shears. I let out a tiny sob with each branch I cut but, in the end, my post was much stronger, much more clear. It had fewer leaves, but stood straighter, more grounded.
And I do this still. Now. After all these years.
Bonus tip: Keep an “Outs” folder for content you have to cut and visit it periodically to find ideas for brand new posts.
3. Use active verbs and throw out most of your adverbs.
Those pesky adverbs, the words that usually end in -ly, are rarely needed.
Don’’t say, “He shut the door loudly.” Say, “He slammed the door.”
Bonus tip: Make a search for those dreaded -ly words. Eliminate them and look at the verb next to them. Can you think of a different verb that will say more exactly what you mean? I use an online thesaurus for this.
4. Toss all the extra words.
If your sentence still makes sense without the extra words, punch that delete button. That’s what it’s for.
For example, if you have started a sentence with: “It has come to my attention that…” you can chop off seven words right off the bat—slash and burn, baby—because you wouldn’t be telling us what you are telling us if it hadn’t come to your attention, right?
Bonus Tip: Read the sentences aloud both ways—with and without the extra words. You will be surprised how well it usually reads without them.
5. Use punctuation marks sparingly.
This one I feel so strongly about that I will be writing a whole post on it.
Take the exclamation point for example. This punctuation mark used to have a focused purpose: to tell us that the author was excited—or angry or astounded—about something. It is reserved for strong feelings and high volume. High volume, as in shouting.
But this crazy world causes many of us to scream all the time.
We push, we shove.
One person uses exclamation marks with wild abandon. The next person starts because, of course, she must compete.
And soon everyone is yelling and we can’t hear anything with all the noise.
Don’t do it. Don’t get sucked in.
Bonus tip: Test each sentence you end with an exclamation point by shouting the sentence. If it still sounds right, leave it. If it doesn’t, toss it. (You can do this in your head if you are afraid your co-worker or your cat will be traumatized.)
And the last one:
6. Do your best to fit in a movie line.
Okay, I made that one up. But haven’t you always wanted to use a line of dialogue from Hollywood? I did once, as a school principal when I called an unscheduled meeting.
When the teachers were assembled in the staff room, I said, “I suppose you’re wondering why I called you all here.” Followed quickly by, “ Okay, I’ve just always wanted to say that.”
I got a mix of chuckles, eye rolling and perplexed looks before I proceeded with the subject at hand, the real reason for the meeting.
There you have it. Five pieces of editing advice to make your blog post stand tall and strong. (You can ignore the last one if you wish.)
An audio option for this post.