The 4-Step Editing Checklist (To Finally Put An End To Over-Editing)

Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole

Ultimate Guide Table of Contents

Ahoy and happy Monday!

Today we want to help you level-up your editing game with 4 dead-simple steps (that you’ll actually use).

But first, we want to address the elephant in the room—time.

  • Is pouring over your work really worth it?
  • How much time should you invest in editing?

In your first year of writing online, editing your work is a waste of time. Period.

And even after your first year, you don’t want to waste precious hours nitpicking every single word.

The problem with editing your work your first year of writing online is you don’t know yet what you’re editing for. You write something. You step away from it. You come back. What are you going to add, subtract, tweak, ro re-write altogether?

More importantly, what’s driving your decisions?

So much of what we preach in Ship 30 for 30 is rooted in moving beyond assumptions and making decisions with data. And that first year of writing online, you have no data. All you have are assumptions. You “assume” you should edit out all your weird metaphors so sound more “professional.” You “assume” you should expand some sections and compress others. As a result, you over-edit based on what you “think” without having any real signal as to what’s driving those decisions in the first place.

The only question you should be asking yourself when you edit is, “Will this provide even more value to the reader?”

And the only way to know what is “valuable” is to learn what works well, and what doesn’t work well by publishing.

  • Does my audience like THIS or THAT?
  • Which topic resonates most? X or Y?
  • Is this my Proven Writing Voice?

Which is why we tell beginning writers, in your first year of writing online, editing your work is a waste of time.

You have no data, no compass, no North Star.

And if you are not careful, you can easily waste hours swapping out adjectives or rearranging words in a single sentence. When you could be learning more, moving faster, gathering data, refining your voice, and confirming your highest-performing topics.

80%+ of your time should be spent a) figuring out what you want to say, and b) organizing your thoughts on the page.

Editing AFTER all that work will be 10x more effective.

Line-editing comes last.

Now with that out of the way, if you think you are ready to edit your work and you want to spend less time hitting the backspace button—let’s dive in!

The 4-Step Editing Checklist (That Will Save You Hours Of Time)

Chances are, your editing process is 1 of these 2:

  1. Spending way too much time agonizing over every word
  2. Spending zero time editing at all (even after you know what you are editing for)

Neither of these are good.

So here are 4 quick steps to help you edit in no time flat:

Step 1: Wait 24 hours between writing and editing

Your writing will “always” look good shortly after writing it – because you just wrote it!

So you need to give it time to breathe.

You need distance to see your work objectively. A break allows you to spot areas that need improvement. And with a fresh mindset you’ll be able to pinpoint opportunities to improve the rhythm of your writing

Come back the next day and edit.

Edit for clarity and flow. Make sure your ideas are expressed coherently, and your writing flows smoothly from one point to the next. Format your piece to make it easily digestible for busy readers—editing for readability and skimmability.

Now, let’s do this in 10 minutes (or less) instead of spending dozens of hours editing.

Step 2: Ask ChatGPT to rewrite your writing in a handful of different ways

By seeing your work through the lens of different writing styles, goals, tones, and target audiences, you can gain new insights and identify areas for improvement.

Ask ChatGPT to rewrite your writing with:

  • Different authors: Try authors like Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, or Maya Angelou. You’ll “hear” how different writing voices impact your message.
  • Different goals: To educate, to persuade, to entertain, etc. You’ll see how the intended outcome affects your style.
  • Different tones: Change the tone to serious, humorous, informative, or optimistic. You may discover that your writing can benefit from a bit more levity.
  • Different demographics: Write for teenagers, senior citizens, or people of different cultures. You’ll see where you need to explain certain concepts in more detail.

Look at your writing from these angles, then pick and choose the pieces that enhance your voice (for the reader).

All of this happens in seconds.

Step 3: Read everything you write aloud

Everything you write looks good on paper.

But to notice choppy bits, wordy jargon, and run-on sentences, you need to “hear them” to actually “see them.” It takes a little extra time, but this is the easiest writing upgrade you can make.

Writing that is hard to speak is hard to read.

Write like you talk. The best writing doesn't sound like writing—it sounds like conversation. And when you read your writing aloud, you’ll know the parts to rewrite based on where you fumble your words.

  • Find where you are out of breath. This means you have run-on sentences – combine them.
  • Find where you stumble over words. This means you're trying to sound smart – simplify it.

Spend 5 minutes to fix these & your writing quality will 10x

So far you've written, waited 24 hours, looked at your writing from a different angle using ChatGPT, read your writing aloud to cut the run-on sentences, clunky bits, and jargony words, and now with your copy edits done, you need to edit for skimmability & readability.

This takes us to the last strategy, let’s go!

Step 4: Read your writing on a different screen than the one you wrote on

This is the ultimate editing hack—and something almost everyone overlooks.

Most people write and edit on a laptop—never even considering mobile.

Reading on mobile gives you fresh eyes. Just like waiting 24 hours between writing & editing, this new perspective makes it “painfully obvious” which parts you need to cut or rewrite.

Reading from mobile forces you to read with a “skimmer’s” mindset. On the internet (and on phones especially) people don't "read." They SKIM! Then, they read. And if you don't give them a reason to keep reading while they skim, they won't even consider reading. Back to TikTok and Netflix they go.

Use these 4 little formatting hacks to immediately upgrade your readability on the internet:

  • Avoid big "walls of text" to make it less intimidating
  • Use big bold subheads to make it skimmable
  • Use bulleted/numbered lists to optimize for SPEED
  • Open with 1 single sentence to make it easy for your reader to get started

Boom – now your piece is super skimmable.

That's it for today's Digital Writing Compass!

–Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole

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