Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Need Some Help Editing?

I've been doing some editing lately, breaking one of my own rules (which you'll note later in the article), but of course 'rules are made to be broken,", right? Well yes and no, but that's another subject for another blog post altogether.
Anyway, I decided since I'm doing it I might toss out a few simple tips to help in the process of editing. Now editing your work is a big job and these few tips certainly aren't everything you need to do/know, but they'll give you a push in the right direction.

Editing your own writing is difficult. No maybe, might be about it. There's a lot to pay attention to and there is frequently the 'flavor of the week' in regard to the continually evolving dos and don'ts and 'forbidden words'. Most of the time I tell folks not to go crazy every time a new trend or a new word to be avoided is announced. However, I've created below a list of a few things you can keep an eye out for. Things that just might smooth your writing, make it flow a bit better and help to draw your reader in. At the same time take heart. Don’t worry if there are a lot of the so-called forbidden words scattered throughout your work. After all there are plenty of the classics and lots of current best sellers that are peppered with them. Consider theses helps, not commands and write from your gut and your heart. After all, nothing is perfect and we probably wouldn’t like it if it was!

One well over-used word is “Very”. There are times it’s necessary, but those are ‘very’ rare indeed. Just leave it out or reword. If you said, “The detective, a very tall man, stood close to the accused” how about “The detective loomed over the accused.” Or search your thesaurus and find another descriptive term that fits your style better. And that's just that one word. Examine your work for others like it. Believe me, you'll find them.

Shed clich├ęs like a ‘duck sheds water’. Unless your character is one who spouts them (and even then, please don't over do), or there is another compelling reason for you to use one, remember, they’re just boring and worn. Their time is past. Come up with something new and fresh of your own. Start your own cliche!

The words ‘up’ and ‘down’ seem to be greatly overused and can be generally eliminated. “Elizabeth put her book down on the bedside table.”  It's just redundant unless Elizabeth put her book somewhere someone normally wouldn't put it. Try "Elizabeth set her book on the bedside table with gentle respect.” Or, here's another: “The drought dried up the earth to the point of cracking.” Eliminate ‘up’ and we might have instead: “The drought dried the earth into deep, dusty fissures.” A bit more life in the passage, don't you think? 

Consider eliminating phrases like “John could hear,” or “John could feel.” This is where showing your reader something is much stronger than telling. Instead of “John could hear the train in the distance.” Try making it more direct. Bring in the reader's senses and put your reader right there. How about: “John heard the distant rumble of the train.” Or, “The sound of the approaching train reverberated in John’s head.” Or: "The train's approach caused the walls to tremble and the knicknacks to dance on the shelves." Another example: Instead of: “Jane could see the vultures circling in search of their next meal.” Try “The vultures floated in widening circles in search of their next meal.- Jane seemed a good candidate.”

Verbs ending in –ing can get to be a bit trying. That’s not to say you need to eliminate them altogether, you can sprinkle them in occasionally, in fact I doubt you could eliminate them altogether. But watch out for excess. Things like, “Joe was watching the parade while tapping his feet to the rhythm of the band.” Better would be: “Joe watched the parade while tapping his feet to the rhythm of the band.” Or “Joe tapped his feet to the rhythm of the band as the parade moved on.” Experiment, turn things around a bit and try to stifle the –ing urge just a little.

Don’t repeat words with great frequency. Scan your page. Does any one word jump out at you? Does it pepper the page or reappear frequently throughout a chapter? Grab your thesaurus and have at it or visit

Now here's the rule I mentioned above that I am currently breaking. Edit after you've completed your piece. Don't try to edit as you go along. There are the occasional times when I have to go back and edit something when I'm in the middle of a story, but mostly I try to write quickly and save the editing until I'm done with the project. It just seems to work better, separating the two tasks - right brain, left brain.

Oh, and much as I love to save paper, many times the only way to really see what needs to be tweaked is to print your work and read from hard copy. People are different. Some can edit onscreen perfectly well, but others need to have that white paper with black print in front of them to do a great job. Decide which kind you are and do it the way that works best. Reading it out loud is a great help as well.  And use both sides of your paper in draft form and don't forget to recycle!


  1. Haaaa! Thanks for this posting. I'm currently editing a chapter. A couple of things you wrote, already jumped out at me. Thanks again!

  2. Every little bit helps, eh! Glad my suggestions were helpful.

  3. Good suggestions, Peggy! I'm glad you mentioned print-outs too. People often ask me to edit poems by email, but I have trouble seeing errors and making comments. If I have a poem printed out, however, my eyes go straight to typos or other mistakes.


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