How An Editor Can Improve Your Writing

The other day I got a text from my friend Eric.

Eric: Do you want grammar notes on something you posted? You have a comma splice in that status about Prime Day. That comma should be a period.

He was referring to an email I had sent out that was also on Facebook and Twitter. The conversation continued, and apparently, I was feeling snarky that day:

Garrett: It’s a newsletter not a thesis paper

Eric: No offense, but the only reason I brought it up is because it’s a newsletter that you’re using to try and make money. Grammar is important for that. At least to me. It looks sloppy and that’s a false impression because you’re not sloppy with your work.

I had two email headlines being A/B tested:

  • What Amazon Prime Day means for writers and readers
  • It’s Amazon Prime Day, how can that benefit you as a writer and reader?

The second one, the one with the comma splice, had 36.4% open rate. The other one had a 9.1% open rate.

Of course, that could have nothing to do with the grammar. Despite the splice, it may just be a really well-written title.

Regardless, Eric is right. People who are looking for writers and editors may not know grammar well enough to catch that, but what if some do? What if I missed an opportunity to be hired by one of my favorite publishers or game studios because they saw that title and decided I wasn’t a good enough writer?

Everything we share should radiate professionalism.

I’ve got a few confessions to make:

  1. I’m pretty bad at comma splices, I do it all the time.
  2. I’m not 100% sure I know how to use a semi-colon.
  3. I’m generally not good at editing my own work (but great at editing others’).

If I want to edit something well, I need to write it ahead of time and come back to it much later. If I try to edit shortly after writing, I miss a lot of things. It’s because I’m too close to the work still. We’re in the honeymoon phase.

It might be the same for you.

That’s why I recommend doing two things:

  1. Self-edit your work a few days after writing.
  2. Get an editor to look at your work.

Hiring an editor can get expensive very quickly, especially if you’re creating content on a weekly basis. When you’re just starting out, it’s fine to self-edit your work. Just make sure you give yourself enough time to separate the emotion from the piece. Don’t edit when you’re still on the honeymoon with your art.

I also recommend this (mostly) free tool called Grammarly. It will point out a lot of things that need correcting. It’s more powerful than just a regular spell check. You can do a lot with the free version, but if you’re serious about your writing business, you’ll want to pick up the paid version.

Grammarly in action.

Click here to check out Grammarly for free.

If you’re just getting started building a business with writing, just use what free tools you have access to and self-edit. Once you start making money, it’s a good idea to invest back into yourself and upgrade Grammarly, as well as hire an editor when you reach that point.

Editors do more than just check Grammar. They’ll be able to tell you what flows and what doesn’t. They’ll be able to make suggestions on better ways to word what you’re saying. They’ll also be able to tell you where information is lacking, or maybe you’re giving too much information.

There are many benefits to hiring an editor, so when you can: it’s going to improve your career.

Quick Take-Aways:

  • Don’t self-edit to soon after writing.
  • Use Grammarly.
  • Hire an editor as soon as you can afford it.

Write What You Know – The Best Writing Advice I Ever Received

Write what you know.

Write what you know.

I hated working retail. I was a customer service representative at TJ Maxx for a year. Before that, I was a regular cashier. After that, I worked the jewelry counter. Things were great when we had a dream team of managers and employees, but managers got moved to other stores and new, terrible managers were moved in. So, people started quitting and the dream team fell apart. After that, it was all downhill.

I’ve written quite a bit about my experiences at TJ Maxx because they helped shape who I am today. It’s what I know. One story I haven’t told, was when I got the best piece of advice I’ve ever received: “write what you know.”

I was working the jewelry counter when a kind older woman needed assistance and started asking me questions about what school I went to (Palm Beach State College, PBCC at the time), and what I was studying (writing). She told me her husband was a writer and that she’d send him over to talk to me later.

When he came by we discussed what I had written that had been well received by others, and then he imparted this advice upon me: write what you know. And, keep writing. Keep writing what you know.

Since then, I have stuck to it and that’s helped me quite a bit with my success.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t go learn new things. In fact, learning new things means you will know more, which provides you with more to write about. There’s nothing wrong with doing research to make sure your writing is accurate. You shouldn’t only write what you know, but there are three situations where writing what you know will be particularly beneficial.

This particular article pertains to writing what you know in regards to creative non-fiction and journalism. The rules change when you’re writing fiction, and that will be discussed at another time in the future.

Write what you know when you’re first getting started.

When you first get started writing, you should write what you know. This doesn’t just mean when you start writing a piece, it means any time you start writing. Whether you’re starting a paper, a book, an article, or your entire career. Write what you know and get that part down.

If you’re just starting your career, you want to exhaust what you know so you can get to learning and writing about new things. It’s easy to get started writing when you’re writing about things you know about, and when you’ve written about every experience you’ve ever had, you’ll start looking for new things to write about.

That’s when things get good! You’ll practice writing on your experiences and improve your skills so that your newer, later on experiences can be better written.

Here’s the truth: a lot of things that have happened to you in your life might have impacted you a lot, but they don’t mean anything to others. You’ll learn which things to share what not to share through doing. It’s best to get this out in your early days because after that, when you’ve built up a following and need to continue to produce quality content, you’ll have already learned.

Of course, you don’t need to share every single experience you’ve ever had. Keep some stuff to yourself. Especially things you’re not comfortable sharing.

You don’t have to write about traumatic experiences and share them with the world. However, if you do, you may help some other people who are experiencing it. You may also help yourself by getting it out. Otherwise, it’s not necessary. If you need to keep something to yourself for your own mental health than that is what’s important.

It’s also good to get what you know out of the way when writing an individual piece. Get everything you know out first so that you can organize and figure out what’s missing. Then research and fill in the missing parts to fulfil the purpose of the piece.

This will help your productivity on writing immensely. You’ll get more out faster by getting everything you know out of your head before you sit down and start the arduous process of research.

Write what you know when you have “writer’s block.”

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I seriously don’t. I used to. I used to use it as an excuse to not write.

“I don’t have any inspiration right now.”

Or

“I don’t know what to write, so I just won’t. It’ll come to me later.”

Well, that’s bullshit. And you’re probably thinking “Garrett, you don’t know me. You don’t know how I work.”

Hey, if you’re making a living writing and enjoying every minute of it, but you sit around waiting for inspiration, awesome. If you’re not making a living from your writing yet, or stuck writing stuff you hate, but sit around waiting for inspiration, well I guess the results speak for themselves.

Dedicate time every day to write. I’ll actually post more about this later, but we’re going to briefly touch on it here so we can get back to the topic at hand.

Write every day, and when you sit down and think “I don’t know what to write about today”, write what you know.

If you want to take it a step further, plan out what you’re going to write the day before. Before you go to bed tonight, plan out an hour of writing tomorrow. Dedicate an hour of your day to writing. I prefer 0800-0900, right before I start my days work for clients. That way, when I’m done with client work for the day, I can either spend more time writing what I want, or relax a little, or do whatever I deem is important. My writing and my work have already been done.

Write what you know when you have writer’s block and you’ll never have writer’s block again.

Write what you know as teaching something.

Here’s the thing about teaching: you need to be teaching. You need to be teaching what you know. People on the internet are thirsty for knowledge. They’re thirsty for free knowledge, and they’re thirsty enough to pay for good knowledge, too.

You can make money writing about what you know.

Whatever it is you know, you need to sit down and write about it. If you know about flying kites, you need to write about flying kites. Write about kites in a weekly blog post. After a year, take those blog posts and reformat them into a book. Don’t just copy and paste each article into a chapter. You need to actually reformat them to make sense cohesively in book format.

That’s just one idea, you don’t have to do that, but it’s a way to build up a following, build up experience, and build up some cash. Who knows, you could end up getting client work or jobs from it.

A lot of my client work has come from me writing about things entirely unrelated to what the client work’s subject matter was. Sometimes people find your writing and just love it, so they hire you. Or they become a fan and continue reading your work for the rest of their lives.

What really attracts people is learning new things, so when you teach what you know, you’ll continue to learn about the subject as well as share that knowledge and grow a following.

Don’t always write what you know.

You shouldn’t write what you know if it’s boring. Let me rephrase that: you should still write it. You probably don’t want to post it anywhere or publish it if it’s boring.

So, here’s what you do: spice it up. It doesn’t have to be 100% fact (as long as you don’t present it as 100% fact). You should write what you know, but you don’t have to strictly write only what you know.

Write things you don’t know. Make stuff up to add interest.

For example, if you’re reminiscing on a certain situation but you don’t remember how the weather was that day, just make it up. It’s not imperative to the story. If it is, don’t make it up. You shouldn’t be making up things that are important part of the piece you’re working on.

But, if the weather isn’t necessary to tell the story, then “it was the hottest day of the year. A woman dropped a carton of eggs on the sidewalk and they were ready to eat before she bent over to pick them up,” will add detail and interest to the story.

Main Takeaways:

  • Write what you know when you’re first getting started on a piece or in your career.
  • Write what you know when you’re experiencing writers block or a lack of inspiration.
  • Write what you know when you’re teaching to gain a following.