When Is Your Copy Editing “Done”?
As a marketing copywriter, your skills are a double-edged sword. You have the power to help your clients clarify their message, tell a compelling story and connect with your audience. But you probably also notice a lot of things when you write that others may not.
While your client may write up something once, be happy or unhappy with it, and move on, your own attention to detail and ability to structure a narrative makes your work powerful. And it can also make you a bit obsessive, stuck in permanent edit mode.
How Many Times Do You Review?
An associate asked me about the editing process a few weeks ago. Specifically, she wanted to know how you know when your work is done, when you can stop editing and walk away. For those of us who keep wordsmithing and looking at what we write over and over, it’s a challenge. There always seems to be a better way to structure a phrase, an improvement you can make here or there… or worse, the urge to delete it all and start over when self-doubt (the “impostor syndrome”) creeps in.
You Need a System
The best way I’ve found to prevent yourself from editing over and over again, never getting to the client review phase, is to set up a system for your writing and stick to it even when you don’t want to.
*Here’s the system that I use to write for clients.** It involves two rounds of writing before client hand-off, and up to two afterwards. I do this in a set cycle to ease my own concerns, get a second, fresh look at everything I create and ensure there’s a point that I will hand it off to the client.
Start By Really Knowing Your Client
Always remember that you are a consultant, even if that’s not what you call yourself. It’s your job to engage in deep conversation with your client up front about their current situation, goals, target audience and desired end state. Just like shooting an arrow without aiming is unwise, so is going into a writing engagement without proper knowledge.
Don’t Jump Into Writing Too Fast
Once you’ve filled your brain with info from the client, don’t go off and start writing right away. This is when I take a moment to step back from the project and think it over for a bit. I’ll take a walk, read the news, anything to get away. I’m a firm believer in letting my subconscious work on problems for me.
Write Once, Edit Once, Then Walk Away
When you start writing, put all other distractions aside. Close your excess browser tabs and social media apps. I like to use a Pomodoro timer on my phone and I leave a single browser window for research.
I pick a single section of content — whatever seems reasonable — and work my way through it. when I’m done, I take a short break and complete a single pass of edits. Then I walk away to force myself to think about other things. If there’s time, I won’t come back to the project until the next day.
When I come back, I go through a second edit, refreshed with my new ideas. This time, I don’t use any focus timer. For me, this is the last edit I go through before client review so I’ll put in as long as it takes within reason, up to one full day.
Client Review: 1–2 Rounds
After the second edit, it’s off to the client for initial feedback. My standard terms are to allow for two full rounds of client feedback and edits. After that, I bill for additional time. In my experience, this is good for both myself and the client, because when rounds of edits are unlimited projects tend to drag on and lose focus.
Each time I get feedback returned from the client, I’ll look over their input and walk away from the piece again for a bit if the changes requested are more than minor corrections.
Discipline and Communication Are Key
The most important part of my system is to communicate with the client up front and throughout so they know what stage of the process their work is at, and what expectations there are on both sides.
What’s Your System?
Do you have a method for writing and editing that works for you? I would love to hear about it.