Over time, try to write less, not more

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And now we come to editing. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned about writing, ever, is how core editing is to the process of great writing.

The bottom line is this: Write less, not more. — Jeff Goins

Once you get more comfortable with just getting started and writing a rubbish first draft, you will find that at least as much of the writing process is in the editing, if not more:

It actually takes more work to write a short post. You may find you spend twice as much time editing as you do writing. (11)

Having someone else to look over your work can help immensely in this stage, as can reading your work aloud and letting it sit in-between edits.

Most importantly, you’ll need to learn to step back from the process of writing and put on your editor’s hat. View your draft as objectively as you can, while asking whether it makes a clear point and whether you’ve used the shortest, most simple words and sentences you can.

Kurt Vonnegut has an excellent rule we can all use when editing:

Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.

Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs

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When I write like I talk, I tend to write long sentences. I can write a sentence that fills an entire paragraph sometimes. Although this might be how the words flow out of my mouth, one of the benefits of writing is that you have a chance to edit your work before the reader gets hold of it.

Advertising legend David Ogilvy was a fan of getting to the point without wasting words:

Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

Never write more than two pages on any subject.

This tip is less about editing (which we’ll get to next) and more about keeping things simple. As much as you can, get to your point quickly and use the most simple language you can.

As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. ‘To be or not to be?’ asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. — Kurt Vonnegut