One of the hardest tasks in writing for me has been the editing process. There have been times as I sweated over my manuscript that I wanted to scream at my computer screen, “This is going to take forever!” And it will. There is no denying it. I could blame it on the fact that I never went to college or better yet, never embarked on any type of writing class to soften the blow of this overwhelming task. But that would be an excuse.
Editing is an art just as writing is. It takes time, perseverance, dedication, and sometimes a glass of wine. LOL! In all seriousness, it’s a task that probably most writers don’t enjoy but in all actuality gain great benefits from. As you learn and grow in the stages of your editing processes, your manuscript can do nothing but improve and shine brighter.
And let’s be honest, that’s what your striving for, that end result. The result of seeing your book on that shelf in the bookstore, the person sitting next to you on the plane who is engulfed in the pages you once bleed over to write, or perhaps just to tell your grandchildren one day that you did, in fact, succeed in writing a book.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way and even recently. Although, I don’t have a degree in English or literature, these are rules that anyone can do to tighten up their writing. Don’t stress, editing is a developed talent and one that you must continue practicing to master.
1. Read out loud. I cannot stress enough how important this one task is. I have found so many mistakes in my manuscript by just doing this. When you write you are so much in “the zone” you sometimes don’t realize what makes sense to you in your head makes no sense once written down. Reading out loud will help you catch those awkward chunky mistakes.
2. Sleep on it. Sometimes the best thing you can do really is to click that power button off your computer and start fresh the next day. You can push yourself too hard because of a deadline. You might actually get less done by staying up till 3am to edit then if you just went to bed and started again after a good night’s rest. If you’ve read the same sentence 3 times in a row it’s time to get some shut eye.
3. Cut, don’t add. We are almost always too wordy. While you may need to add a word or two while editing, for the most part you should be removing words. Concise writing is more powerful and easier to read than lengthy prose. While doing this don’t forget to “justify” your words. Every point, statement, question, joke, or scene in your manuscript should have a reason to be there. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. Wordiness can be a story killer and cause it to lose value, so be harsh and not overly attached when doing this. Word count is not everything and it’s a struggle that I have to remind myself. A simple phrase that helps with this is “when in doubt, take it out.” If it seems like something that’s impossible for you to commit to entirely, simply do what I do. Anything I cut out, I save in a separate document in case I feel the need to add again later. 9 times out of 10, I never add them back though.
4. Abstain from using grandiose words in your penmanship. In other words, don’t get too fancy with your word usage. Inexperienced authors tend to overuse their Thesaurus at times. While it’s important to have diversity in our word usage it’s important to make sure we don’t become outlandish with words that our reader won’t understand. If your reader has to stop reading to get a dictionary, you may have a problem.
5. Die Adverbs! Die! Some adverbs are fine, but a lot of times they usually only serve for padding out a statement that doesn’t need it. Again, try to refrain from wordiness. An excessive amount of adverbs will do it to you in a heartbeat. Example: “She ran quickly”. Most of the time running is quick. That’s a given. Now if there is something unusual about her running (perhaps she ran quietly through the house) then mention it; if not, just say “she ran” and trust that your readers know what running means.
6. Throw out unnecessary redundancies. Although, at one time or another in school you were taught to repeat something until you could recite it, that is not the rule for writing. For most readers it’s a waste of their time and an insult to their intelligence to repeat something continually. This will only cause them to skip over parts of the book or tune you out completely which is the last thing you want your readers to do. Say it clearly the first time, then move on.
7. Beware of passive sentences. This is another task that I have had a difficult time with. Avoid the use of “to be” and its conjugations (is, was, were, are, am). These often indicate a passive sentence, where the subject is acted upon instead of acting. Passivity makes for weak, unconvincing writing.
8. Use the “find” feature to eliminate certain phrases. “When writers have finished their first draft, they should use the “find” feature to identify the phrases “there are” or “there is” or “to be.” There are always better ways to write sentences — without using those phrases. This type of editing makes writing more action packed and creative.” – Meghan Sager, public relations specialist.
9. Eliminate the word ‘that.’ “Rarely is the word ‘that’ valuable or necessary,” says John Honeycutt, author of Provocative Business Change: Business-Turfing. “Take, for example, ‘I hope that your effort is successful’ versus ‘I hope your effort is successful!’” When you’re editing your writing, take out words that add unnecessary bulk.
10. Let your writing go. “The best writing advice I ever received was to not get attached to words,” says Alyice Edrich, editor and freelance writer. “When writers allow themselves to get emotionally attached to what they’ve written — which is really easy to do as a creative artist — they don’t allow themselves to improve their writing. While it is true that some critiques are a matter of opinion and can be easily ignored, other critiques are a matter of business. Editors, for instance, often come back with suggestions to change paragraphs, delete sentences, increase background information or sources, or overhaul certain grammatical errors. Those critiques can sting and hurt a writer’s ego, even making them feel like failures or as though they’ve been personally attacked. The problem occurs when writers don’t take those critiques objectively and choose an unprofessional attitude, causing the editor to wish she’d never given the writer the assignment in the first place.”
11. Check the facts in your article, book proposal, or essay. “My key piece of writing advice is look up everything,” says freelance writer and editor, Cynthia Clampitt. “Writers should NEVER write what they think is correct without checking first. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen things come across my desk, in which a writer has written off the top of his or her head. The errors were horrendous. I’ve seen Mikhail Baryshnikov named as the president of Russia, penultimate used to mean “more than the best” (it means “next to last),” and more examples. I tell writers there are two things they need to look up: all their facts and all their words. Because if they don’t, either the publication will look stupid or some harried editor has to rewrite the piece.”
And last but not least…just trust the writing process because it works. The first draft isn’t supposed to be good; writers just need to barrel their way through to the end without self-editing. The second draft will be better, and the third better still. You can do this, one step at a time. I would encourage you all as well to just read as much as you can. There is a wealth of knowledge out there about editing. The key is to be open to it and follow through. Again, I cannot say this enough…this is a marathon not a sprint.