It’s Easier To Edit Crap Than Air!

Are you experiencing writer's block in some form or another?  Are you having trouble finishing that sales letter? Finishing that article? Finishing that chapter? Or even writing that blog post or email?

The most common problem I see with writer's block is that people are trying to make their writing perfect as soon as they write it.  I am here to tell you that you HAVE to get over that!  You cannot edit as you go along.  You need to write first - and edit later.

You do that by dictating, by reading forwards and backwards, and reading aloud.  It is more important than anything to get something on paper until you can edit it.

I once tutored someone in College who was trying to write an essay, and I literally saw her rewrite the same sentence TWELVE times until she had something she liked!  This meant that in the time it took her to write one page, I could have written twelve pages!

This is One of Those Top Habits to Break!

You need to get used to writing down just the first draft of whatever you want to say.  You know how to string together a sentence TALKING to someone - and that means you can put together real coherent talks.  You need to write the way you talk!

For me, I can write a first draft pretty easily; but when I am stuck I do have to dictate it and get it transcribed.  Maybe this is what you have to do:  dictate it, then hand it on to someone on a service like Elance or oDesk and get them to transcribe it for you.

Now, what do you do when you have the text that comes back from the transcriptionist?  It's time to edit it.  If you are not careful, you are going to run across the same problem I explained with the College student who rewrote the same sentence twelve times over!  The key to editing is you see what catches your eye and make it a little bit better.  It is never, ever going to be 100% perfect!

All You Can Do is Make It a Little Bit Better...

Here is what I like to do: I like to read it first backwards and then forwards.  Reading it backwards makes it seem less tedious and more like I am reading something new. It also helps with the transitions:  if I made a very strange transition from paragraph to paragraph, it is much more easy to spot when you are reading backwards.  Read the bottom paragraph first, then the second-to-last, the third-to-last, and so on.

If you spot a sentence that doesn't quite seem right or is too long, throw out small chunks - but not big chunks.  I know you are tempted to rewrite the whole entire sentence from scratch - but 99% of your sentences are salvageable!  Usually, you just need to rearrange some of the words or remove some of the words, to say the same exact thing; and now the same point has been made but suddenly it makes sense.

I know that when you write or when you talk, you don't speak gibberish! You DO have points you are trying to make; the only issue is what are the correct words and phrases to make those points?

Finally, something that helps me a ton with editing is reading what I just wrote aloud.  Sometimes when I write things, they look okay in my head, but when I read them I realize how stupid it sounds; or when I really said one thing but meant another.  Read it aloud - or even better read it aloud to a friend or have a friend read it back to you.  You might cringe at first - but this will be really great for toughening you up and getting you used to people reading your material.  After all, isn't that the point - for you to write something and then have somebody else read it?

One other big benefit I have noticed from reading my material aloud is that I notice a lot of repeated words and phrases I use when I talk and when I write.  For example, words like "so", or "simply", or "like", or "however", or "but."  It is okay to say these words every now and then, but if you notice you are saying these at the beginning of every sentence or every paragraph, these are problem words you need to keep notice of and just note to scan for these particular words; remove them from your writing - and it will suddenly look a whole lot better.

And that is how you are going to edit the things you write so that you can write quickly, but also write well. Simply dictate or quickly write out the first draft version first, before even going into editing mode.  Never edit as you go. When you DO edit, edit very minimally.  Read backwards and forwards and throw out the small chunks but not the big chunks.  To help find things that need to be changed, read your work aloud, or even get a friend to read it - especially to notice the repeated words and phrases.

How much of a problem is editing for you? What is your best editing tip?  Post a comment below telling me. Thanks in advance for that!

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Comments (43)

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  1. Great advice – I agree, always give yourself permission to write a crummy first draft, don’t edit until you’re done. On longer projects, I create a “snippets” file to drop in anything I cut out of the big file with regrets — that makes it easier mentally to cut, knowing I’ve still saved it somewhere else in case I find a home for that brilliant idea elsewhere.
    Writing is rewriting. A first draft isn’t ready to go out and live in the world, but it’s a great achievement to do it. Then shape it by editing.

  2. Dave says:

    Spot on. Write first, copiously. Then edit. And favor shorter sentences over longer.

  3. Donna says:

    Love the title… and you’re spot-on as usual, Robert! Thanks for posting so frequently (I should take a lesson from that alone).

    You ARE appreciated!

  4. Interesting enough, I’ve found myself overusing ‘so’ as well.

    Nowadays, I tend to aim for ‘good enough’ content. I can write excellent perfect English when I want to, but it’s pointless. On the Web, there’s so much new content being generated all the time, but most of it will hardly ever be read. Plus, many people reading the content can’t even tell the difference between good English and bad English.

    There’s a couple of other techniques that I can recommend for people who can’t write so well. One is to just write a plan and then outsource filling in the gaps. The other is to try and write it well, but to pay someone to proof read it and improve it.

    In both these cases, you’ve done a lot of the work yourself (particularly if you’ve done the research for a product and compiled it into a form where only the written word is needed), so you’re only paying someone to finish this off, rather than write from scratch.


  5. Sherm says:

    The greatest advice ever…I LOVE that motto so much, I used it in my storyboarding class last night (I even gave you credit). I always tell my students: give yourself permission to do a crappy job. Then when you’ll be able to see what needs fixing.

  6. William says:

    Howdy Robert,

    You said it, writers block sucks! I experience this today while writing the copy for a new list. It took me ten minutes to start writing the copy. There were several times that I got out of my chair and started taunting my computer because I didn’t know what to write.

    is this the right word?
    should I use a hyphen in that spot?

    Then I decided to take a break. Two minutes later I was back at it. The writers block was gone and the rest was history.

    tomorrow I will begin the editing before taking this thing live.

  7. William says:

    Hey Robert,

    Here is how I edit:
    1. Speak out what I wrote to make sure it sounds normal.
    2. Note any rough spots in the speaking process and find out why I stumbled in reading aloud. Fix it. Make it sound natural, like you and me having a conversation.

    3.Print it out and hand it to my neighbor six year old child. See if she understands it… Then give it to a few more friends for there input. Trusted friends only.

    4.Give a copy to my wife. She has a masters in english and always uses a red pen to my writing. Use her suggestions to fix spelling and puntuation. ingnor the rest of what she has to say about my meatball writing style. This ain’t school.

    5. Re-read it again. Make it live and staart sending traffic to it.

    Or you could skip this whole process for a blog post or commenting on blogs. I use the editing process for reports, ebooks, web pages and sales messages. You know, the stuff that might make you look stupid and embarrass you later on down the road.

  8. HELLO robert! thanks again for that great input the other day. when I read your article,I see a whole new world in editing alone, when you said to write as the way you “think or talk”. that’s a very good eye opener, because I believe that’s were all of the human createabily really is. thanks for you help! you rock!

  9. Jase says:

    I don’t often have a problem writing.

    I have a problem starting to write.

    I pre-edit in my head in terms of “is that the right topic?” “will people be interested in that?” “hasn’t that all been said before better than I can say it?” “how can I say it so it will grab attention”.

    Once I get off the starter’s block I’m usually fine but I have to admit I do have a lot of half-finished stuff around…

    Any clues for working out what to write about without doubt?

  10. I guess you could say that I perfected the art of “editing as you go”. I’ve done that all my life and although I’ve never had to rewrite a sentence 12 times.. I could spend an hour crafting an email or a response to a forum post and that was simply waaay too long.

    Recently.. after using your formula’s from
    Time Management on Crack I’ve been MUCH MUCH faster at it.

    I’m writing quality posts, forum responses, articles, and I’m letting my first draft be the only draft.

    Thanks for all the great tips!

  11. Peter Paul says:

    Writing is really difficult. For me it’s time consuming and sometimes it frys up my brian. hehe

    It’s like ready fire and aim.
    Write the whole story first and edit only after you have finish and put all the ideas from your mind.

  12. I think it’s Dan Kennedy who says in one of his interviews, “It’s more important to be prolific rather than good.” Usually don’t expect to hear that from a guy who’s good almost all of the time.

    I’ve been guilty of editing while writing and over-editing. Less so recently. You article is spot on.


  13. Warren says:

    Hi Robert,

    I have always been a better editor than a writer. A Bachelors Degree in Secondary Education and English may have something to do with it.

    Your recommendation to never edit while you write is hard to do.

    Tip: If you are writing in conversational style, it is okay to include incomplete sentences. For example,

    I was thinking about my wife yesterday. Brilliant. Hard working. Family focused. Loving. I couldn’t ask for more.

    In a more formal style, single words much less adjectives would not be right. But in a conversational style, anything that sounds like real conversation or thoughts when you read it aloud is okay.

  14. Adam Porter says:

    Top Habits To Break, indeed! I find this to be a toughie for me…when I’m WRITING my articles, anyway. 😉

    Thanks Robert for pointing this out.

  15. Rick Butts says:

    Right on Robert – good books are edited – not inspired and magically written at once.

    I just posted a review of Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird – Some Instructions on Writing and Life – a very helpful book for anyone who wants to write stuff.

    Thanks for your great post, as usual.

  16. Robert, thanks for the informative post. My takeaway is reading backwards, which I never did before. Gotta give it a try 🙂

  17. Tim Russ says:

    Editing isn’t much of a problem for me at all. I’ve been writing for 40 years. As Evelyn said, “Writing is rewriting”.

    My best tip is to use the most powerful word in the sentence at the end of the sentence where it has more impact.

  18. Robert Plank says:

    Tim, as long as putting the power word at the end of the sentence doesn’t cause you to start writing in passive sentences… then it’s just had the opposite effect.

  19. Dan Martin says:


    Once in the flow, I don’t usually have a problem. Getting started frequently is an issue. Sometimes I have to walk away from the computer for space. When I return I’m ready to write.

    A good thing about your blogs vs many others… there’s good tips in the responses.

  20. There’s a similar technique i just learned in Ed Dale’s Challenge called “free writing”…works pretty well!

    Mtn Jim

  21. Robert, have you been listening in on our homeschooling writing classes? You and I say the EXACT same things. Okay, except for the transcription idea. I love that and will share it with my kids.

    Can I add one other thought . . .in addition to “so” and “that” consider the verbs used. Are they actions or just “to be” (like am, is, was, were)? Sometimes the only change needed in a sentence is to use a more descriptive verb instead of that “to be” verb. This works great when you’re reading your sentence aloud or when you start reading from the bottom. Best used when editting 🙂

    Keep up the great work, Robert.

  22. Carl says:

    Robert and Team,

    Your article was great and good information for anyone struggling with writers or editors block.

    However, like Jase commented above, my problem is not centered in ability to write or edit. I have a fair amount of experience in doing both. The issue is second guessing myself on the value of what I am writing. I run thru my head over and over.

    – Is the material valuable
    – Will anyone need, want, or pay for this.
    – Are there too many people doing this already

    Well, you get the point.


  23. Baolin Liu says:

    Good tips on how to get the creative writing juices flowing.

  24. When I’m writing my own articles or blog posts, I like to write as quickly as I can and then I don’t look at the material until the next day. The following day, I do a final edit and I’m done.

    I edit when my attention and energy are highest which tends to be the very early morning. This ensures I’ll catch grammar and other errors.

    Tip: Write quickly at any time of the day you feel inspired. Edit quickly at the time of day when you’re most alert and highly energized. Let material rest aka “marinate” — typically overnight. Read it again at your high energy time of day. Finalize. Done.

    Extra Tip for Tara: Write in batches or over a span of time — much more efficient — at least for me. When I write, I like to sit down and write for several hours at a time. Again, the very early morning is when it’s easiest for me to write/edit material. Don’t write or edit when you feel sluggish — that’s a sure way to experience writer’s block.

  25. Evan says:

    Robert, your tips are great, I would like to apply it in my daily life. Thank you.

  26. William says:

    Hey guy’s,

    My biggest problem in the editing phase is not removing enough junk sentences and adding to what I have previously written.

    One of my reports was supposed to be a 7 pager. After the editing process instead of cutting I added to it.

    I let it sit on my desk top for a few days then went back to cut out a bunch of sentences, guess what?

    I added even more. Now the small report is an ebook. Like all things I give to much away to just be a teaser.

    I suck!

  27. Les Tatum says:

    Hi Robert,
    I tend to over edit myself a lot. I have to try really hard not to. I think it was you that said to me once, “Don’t even read it, just write it and hit send.” That has helped me alot to start getting into the mentality of, it’s never going to be 100% perfect so just get it out there and then course correct. Thanks for the great post, reminded me I need to refocus on this more.

  28. Christine says:

    My best “editing” tip is to keep it short in the first place, say what you mean, and stay on topic.

    Also, I’m a member of Robert’s Time Management On Crack and the 2 most important tips I’ve learned to keep from overwriting everything are:

    1. I use a countdown timer, which makes me write faster and not over think what I’m writing;

    2. I’ve stopped being a perfectionist about writing. Get it done 100% and move on.

    Thanks again, Robert, for another productivity tip.

  29. Flo Williams says:

    I used to do this all the time before I learned to compose at the keyboard, but it still works when I am getting stuck. I write what I have to say very quickly in long hand. Then when I go to type it up the editing comes naturally and I notice words that are repeated too many times etc. or paragraphs that just don’t start out right. I agree, just get something down on paper. From a journalism undergrad standpoint it also helps once you have finished something to leave it alone for awhile. We used to say 2 weeks, but things have sped up, but if you can leave it alone even for only two days, you will notice a lot of things you could have said clearer the next time yo go through it.

    I like the dictating idea. Somewhere I have IBM’s ViaVoice. Has anyone tried using this software in this manner?

  30. Ron says:

    Great advice Robert.
    I tend to ramble on and string thoughts together into long sentences, with lots of buts and howevers, kinda like this. Not good.

    I just re-read one of last semesters English essays. Reading forward it appeared to make sense, but got a low grade. Reading backward I see where I messed it up. Thanks for the great tip.

  31. Robert, I got so inspired that I quickly wrote an article and posted it on my blog…

    It’s about using FreeNaturalReader to read the post back to you, (the method I use), and then you can catch all the poor English, all the structural errors, all the repetitions, because the software creates a distance between you and your writing.

    This whole topic, article writing is so rich…

  32. Great advice, Robert. I’m very fortunate that writing is a super strength for me. I was a reporter, a newspaper editor, but besides doing it for a job, I simply LOVE to write. I write well, and I write quickly. But, I always take another minute or two to scan for logic and spelling/grammar errors.

    I purchased your course (actually my biz partner purchased it for me) and to tell you the truth, I’m having a heck of a time thinking about transitioning from writing to dictating. I’ve gotten so accustomed to “thinking” with my fingers. I did a little test to try and duplicate what Lance did when he dictated that article on Video Sales Tactics. I actually wrote a 250 word article (using your great outline tactics!) faster than what Lance dictated.

    It’s really sad to see people struggling so much with the writing part of the biz. There’s not much chance of success without writing often and writing well.

    I do recommend your course, especially if someone is struggling with the writing. If you need any testimonials, let me finish it and then if you ask, I’ll do it happily.

    Thanks for your thoughtful posts.


    PS…I’m interviewing Helen again next week. We’re going to promote her R.A.C.E -ing Forward course. I’d like to see her on that stage winning Armand’s grand prize! If you want to let your tribe know, I’ll send you the link.

  33. My #1 saying, “Get it written, then get it RIGHT!”

    And I’ve heard a prolific content producer say, some of that crap is pretty good! So don’t worry about.

  34. I do not have a writer’s block, but a tendency to postpone. Instead just do it. The new idea for me in the post was to read backwards.

  35. Travis says:

    Very rare (or non-existent) is the person who doesn’t have to edit their writing. So if you know you’re going to be editing anyway, get something, anything, down on the page. I do some song writing. If I tried to get the first draft of the lyrics the way I see them in my head right out of the gate, I’d never finish the darn thing. Yea, sometimes the words just flow. But as most professional writers (especially fiction authors) will tell you, getting it right takes time and effort.


  36. Isobel says:

    In order to get the words on the page as fast as possible, I love Write or Die. If you stop for too long, it starts deleting your work!

    The other tip that’s really helped to tighten up my style is writing for Demand Studios. Their copy editors are RUTHLESS (and very good).

    Editing: ALWAYS read it out loud. For Web writing, no more than 3 or 4 sentences per paragraph and use sub-heads to keep your writing focused.

  37. Thomas R says:

    I would rather rewrite than produce an article from scratch. I can do that. Read aloud to find problems in something you have written, you bet have been doing that for years, cool.
    Rewriting is something that I am always doing with everything that I write. Like even this post, I rewrote more than 4 times. That is what takes me so long to write or rewrite anything.

  38. Nat says:

    I think I’m a terrible writer, but others disagree. They do not understand my struggle to get my ideas out of my head onto the paper.

    I agree with you, Robert. I’ve been thinking over this the last few days and came to the same conclusion. The problem is not understanding that writing is a process (along with a liberal dose of perfectionism). I’ve recognized that stumbling block and the writing is getting much better.

    Truthfully, my real strength is talking. Thank goodness voice recognition software is better than ever. I am getting into a groove of dictating the draft and come back to edit the next day. I’m also working on controlling my computer with voice to automate many processes.

    Lastly, I don’t know what to think of those folks who say they can write a good article in 7 minutes flat. Who are they and what planet did they come from?

  39. Robert Plank says:


    I can type an article in 5 minutes and dictate one in 90 seconds.

    You have to believe you can do it… have a system… and do it enough times so you get faster each time and slowly reach 5 minutes.

  40. Nat says:

    OOPs! Sorry Robert. I had no idea…(smile)

  41. Cy says:

    For me writing is the most thrilling thing I can do on my site(s). But what I do is I will write whatever comes to mine on the topic.

    Using keywords to start me off. Then I’ll walk away do something else for 10-15 minutes and come back re-read it. And see if it flows properly.

    Are there any hang ups. Any stops..

    If there aren’t, then I’ll post it.

  42. Hi Robert,
    great topic and advise. To get started, I use an Q&A style. I just make up someone who has a question that interests me, and then I write my answer. It is much easier for me to pretend to answer someone with a concrete question than to write into thin air. And the writing shows this, too, as it is personal instead of lecture.
    I think that if I have a question that I would like to answer, others might have that question, too.

    To edit, I just read the post aloud and correct what doesn’t flow. But I make sure that the personal stuff stays in. People know the way I talk, and they like to read the same style.

  43. As says:

    Great post, thanks for sharing…

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