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On writing, editing and time management

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A handwritten letter with a silver ballpoint pen.

By Sarah McKenzie

Back in 2010, I was a new arrival to the city and a fresh-faced undergrad at UTS. I started my three year Writing and Cultural Studies degree with ambitious intentions – but true to the stereotype of the perpetually disorganised, barely-over-20-something student, I quickly became a serial procrastinator.

Last minute scrambling is an inevitable component of uni life. Despite my distractible personality (look – ! a shiny thing!), I always managed to submit my frenzied essays just in time and scrape through the course requirements. However, a significant problem remained: I didn’t allow enough time for the editing process.

You might be thinking, is limited time for editing such a big deal? Surely submitting the work on time – or at all – is what matters most?

If there’s one thing that rolling out assignments in a mad dash has taught me, it’s this: without adequate time to edit and re-edit (and re-edit again!), a piece of writing will be substandard. Churning out material just for the sake of it may help you to pass, but it won’t help you to maximise your potential or teach you how to be a better writer.

When a piece of writing is substandard, it’s not necessarily because the author is a ‘bad’ writer. Oftentimes, the work has simply been poorly edited.

One of my favourite Australian authors, Melina Marchetta, confessed: “My first draft is generally awful. Before I share it with anyone else, I’ll rewrite it several times. I am obsessed with getting the words right.” Even the best writers are never solely writers – they must also be good editors and time managers.

So, without further ado, here are my top three tips for improving your writing and editing skills through effective time management:

1.     Foster a strong work ethic.

Since entering the workforce as a copywriter at Manning & Co, I have learnt procrastination is *never* conducive to productivity. Okay, so this is common sense – but it’s a lesson I needed to learn. To meet deadlines on time, every time, postponing writing tasks is simply not an option.

Breaking the cycle of procrastination is a daunting prospect, but it is possible. Try having a reward system. For example: “If I complete this article one day earlier than the deadline, I will treat myself to lunch at a café.” The simplest rewards can make all the difference and help you to foster a strong work ethic. A strong work ethic will also help you to feel happier and more engaged in your role at work or uni, boost your motivation, and bolster your potential for success.

2.    Create micro deadlines.

A useful strategy that helps me delegate time to both writing and editing is creating my own micro deadlines. My favourite way to do this is to map out monthly and weekly ‘vision’ boards for work and uni.

I’m a visual learner, so my vision boards are usually white boards marked with notes in different colours. I list both major deadlines (e.g. a CEO Magazine article submission date) and micro tasks with a specific timeframe allocated to them (e.g. spend one hour editing CEO Magazine article; insert relevant stats). There’s nothing quite so satisfying as ticking off these tasks! *nerd alert*

3.    Hone your eye for detail.

Whether you’re writing a report, media release, blog etc, choosing the best writing style for the task can be tricky. To communicate your message as clearly and articulately as possible, your choice of words is crucial – but getting language right is almost impossible in the first draft.

Writing a powerful story takes time and continuous editing. Pay attention to the minute details of your work, from punctuation and grammar, to your tone of voice and use of descriptive language. Honing your eye for detail will also help you to channel your creative zest and flair into your work, capturing your unique voice. Strive for originality and continuous improvement. Aim to learn new writing, editing and time management skills day-to-day, and you will lift your writing to new and bedazzling heights.