Embrace the edit: 5 writing tactics to get past the first draft

Learning to edit your own first-draft copy saves time for you and your client. We have five tips to help you get your first draft into a near-perfect state.

Editing copy is important.

Most people don’t create a perfect piece of content the first time they write it. In B2B copywriting, the first draft a client sees is not necessarily the first draft of a piece of copy.

The copy has already been edited by you, its writer, before it makes its way anywhere near an editor or client. Becoming a great self-editor means your editor or client doesn’t need to spend so much time commenting and giving feedback on your copy. This means you spend less time doing amends, the piece gets approved faster, and everyone’s happy!

But how do you get past that first draft and craft a piece of writing that is what the client needs? Here are writing five tactics to help you do just that.

5. Preparation, preparation, preparation

To make writing easier, and to save time, get together everything you need to write a piece of copy before you start writing it. Review the brief – if something isn’t clear, get it clarified before you start writing. Ask if there is an existing persona you should be writing for – and if there isn’t, make one.

If it’s a long-form piece of copy, like a white paper or ebook, write an outline for the piece and get it approved by the person or people who have commissioned the work. That way you’ll know you’re heading off in the right direction before you start writing.

4. Get your research out of the way

Also before you start writing, research and collate the quotes and statistics you plan to use in the piece. That means you won’t have to pause to do research when you’re meant to be writing. Of course, not just any old figure will do; your stats and quotes need to support your story in a credible and convincing way. Depending on how fast things move in the topic or industry you’re writing about, a stat that is only two years old could already be out of date. Be careful to use stats you feel are still fresh and relevant for your subject area, or your copy risks losing credibility.

Always try to find out the original source of any statistics or quotes you want to use. This will give you the original context and help show whether the information is relevant or whether it’s been misquoted or the data is too old for it to be relevant to the content’s subject.

3. Expect things to be messy in your first draft

It’s important to get your initial thoughts down once you start writing your first draft, so just get it done no matter what. If you’re finding it difficult to write one section, make a note on your outline and just move on to another. The point is not to be trimming and pruning as you go.

But you can reduce messiness and writer’s block if you keep referring back to your outline and brief, to ensure what you’re writing is on point. Finding yourself veering off course? Don’t prune, just rein it back in and go back to the problem part later. And importantly: if you’re finding it hard to start with writing the introduction – go and write the other parts first.

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2. Don’t go straight into the rewrite

One of the worst things a copywriter can do is go straight into editing a piece of content having just written it. Starting the edit right away doesn’t save time, because you’re more likely to miss mistakes or leave in sentences that don’t read well.

So just go and work on something else or chill for a bit (at Radix, a few of us like playing some points of table tennis to help us get the first drafts out of our system). You’ll likely find that that one “must leave-in, stellar sentence” may not be so hot once you get back to it. Just don’t forget to factor in time for refreshing table tennis games/walks/mugs of coffee when planning your work schedule.

1. Accept that perfection is impossible

Once you start that edit, there shouldn’t be too much to change, thanks to all the preparation you did before you started writing. Don’t get too hung up on making changes to every tiny piece of the copy. “Done is better than perfect,” as I was once told by a business advisor, and it’s something you need to remember so that you don’t get lost in producing the first version of copy the client will see.

The process will be easier if you make sure your edit culls things like jargon; hard to read sentences; use of the passive voice; superfluous adverbs – all the things that stop copy from being clear and easy to read. And if things aren’t coming together, you can always nuke your draft from orbit and start again. But only rewrite as much as time allows – don’t forget you’ll also need to allow time for edits based on comments from your editor and client.

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