Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Editing Process Polishes Your Work

Look at this stairway of famed books for children. I counted 13. That means 13 authors wrote a first draft. Undoubtedly, 13 authors edited that first effort once, twice, and even more times. Rare as a red rose in the snow is the book manuscript that stands ready to be published on its first writing.

I've often made the comment that the writing is easy while marketing your book is the tough part. Well, that was said with several grains of truth, but let it never be said that writing is easy. Anyone who has tried it will attest to that. I'm a person who likes to get a project done and then move on to the next one. I could do that when making a quilt or sewing a dress for a little daughter but not so with my writing projects. Those must be revisited many times before I can call them finished. Don't forget to let the project simmer a few days or more before you do the editing. That's key to the process.

Newer writers might wonder if editing their work means only checking for typos, punctuation, misspelled words and proper capitalization. While all those things should be looked at, there are others to be added to the list.

1. repetition:  This is bigger than you think. When I critique in my online writers group, one of the things that jump out in someone else's story is repeating words or ideas. If you use the same word in two consecutive sentences or, gasp, even three, you risk boring your reader. It may sound foolish but it's true. Same with ideas that are repeated even though you may use different words. Most readers will pick up on the fact that you're telling them the same thing twice. Writing book authors will tell you not to do it, they'll say you must respect your reader's intelligence.

2. sentence length:  When you look at your first draft, pay attention to how long or short your sentences are. Too many lengthy ones make the reader wear out and maybe even give up reading. Alternate short sentences with long ones, and I don't mean exactly every other one. Do consider tossing in a short sentence between a couple of long ones. Occasionally, a writer will use several very short sentences together for emphasis, and that's fine. There are exceptions to every rule or method. Think about those many short sentences in early reading books. As an adult, they'd irritate you if all the sentences were only a few words each.

3. clarity: When I write a story, especially a memoir piece, I know exactly what the situation was, I know the backstory, I know the setting. Readers do not know these things so you must be certain you write in such a way that all those things are clear. As you journey through the editing process, ask yourself if things are as clear as they should be. This is one thing that having another person go through the manuscript is invaluable. Anything not clear will jump out at them immediately. A good case for editing on your own, then asking someone else to do another edit.

4. unnecessary words:  Once upon a time, I was dubbed the Queen of Unnecessary words. I awarded myself this honor (or dishonor) early in my writing world. In the first online critique group I belonged to, using too many unnecessary words was the item marked most by those who critted my work. The moderator of the group did not use the finesse others did when pointing it out. She acted like a mother who had been disobeyed and read me the riot act more than once. It was good for me as the importance of not using words like just, very, that is, why, who is, which was and others (depending on where they land in your sentence) appeared very clear. By getting rid of these redundant or superfluous words, your remaining sentence will be much stronger. We use a lot of those unnecessary words when we speak to one another, but in our writing we need to be more concise.

5. passive verbs: Watch carefully for overuse of passive verbs--those that show no action--words like was, is, are. They're used by a lazy writer. Make it a habit to find active verbs, words that show us what someone is doing. Jump, run, batted, smashed, darted are words that bring the reader an instant mental picture. They are also far more interesting. I once pointed out in a critique that the writer had used a passive verb in every sentence in a lengthy paragraph. Boring! Practice using active verbs and it becomes a habit.

These are only some of the things to look for when you do an edit. Plot changes deserve another special editing process. Doing the ones I've listed will strengthen your writing, will make it more interesting to the reader, and make it more likely to be published.  

Writing is a step by step process. If anyone ever told you it happens easily, don't believe them. Capture the publishing prize by working through the process until you deem the work ready to market.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Kathy. If only eveeryone who submits to a publication would edit carefully, editors would be smiling.