Tag s | Editing

The Writer as Editor: More Tools to Use

Adding the finishing touches to his hairstyle

There are some great quotes out there about editors and editing. For example:

“Read your own compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” Samuel Johnson

“What I have crossed out, I didn’t like. What I haven’t crossed out, I’m dissatisfied with.” Cecil B. DeMille

“From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I shall not put.” Winston Churchill

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” Shannon Hale

And my favorite:

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” Dr. Seuss

SO, how to edit your own writing? Well, we already talked about three helpful tools in my post last week. Now, let’s take a look at three more:

1. Pull The Threads. How often have you finished a book and realized you’re not sure that a character’s story/faith/emotional arcs are all you want them to be? Here’s a great way to check that out: Copy and past that character’s scenes into a document, then read them beginning to end. When you read just those scenes, you’ll have a clear idea of whether or not you’ve accomplished what you wanted. What’s more, you’ll be able to pinpoint where to make any changes or revisions.

2. Use Your Ears! When we write, we see the story unfold in our heads, playing out on the screen of our minds. But once the story is on the page, and once you’ve had a little time away from it, it’s time to get outside your head and…listen. Listen to your story. Close your eyes, and just…listen. Whether you have someone read the book to you, utilize one of the many text-to-speech programs available, or read it out loud yourself (in which case, don’t close your eyes!), hearing your story can help you catch an amazing number of issues. It’s well known among editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders that the eye reads what it expects to read on the page. Which makes it easy to miss when words are misspelled or misused. But hearing your story, or reading it aloud yourself, helps you catch such things as:

  • Missing words
  • Wrong words (e.g., you rather than your; through rather than though)
  • Pacing issues
  • Dialogue issues
  • Confusing sentences
  • Spell-check missteps (years ago I was editing a manuscript on comparative religions, and spell-check changed every Mormon and Mormonism to moron and moronism)
  • Narrative and character voice

3. Tighten Up! When you’re editing it’s the perfect time to remember that old adage, “Less is more.” Unless you’re writing about a character who uses ten words when five will do, use the editing process to tighten your prose. Some things to watch for:

Superlatives. They’re there, hiding in your manuscript. And you need to blast ‘em into extinction: very, extremely, super, really, just, and so on. So make your writing super tight with the extremely easy step of just cutting out all those really useless superlatives.

Empty phrases. A few to watch for: started to, in order to, began to, prepared to. Not He grabbed her pen in order to stop her from adding another superlative but He grabbed her pen to stop her from adding another superlative. Not She started to write but She wrote.

That. You’d be amazed how many thats creep into our writing. Most can be eliminated (e.g., not She told him that he was too wordy but She told him he was too wordy)

–ly Adverbs. More often than not, these are weak writing. See if you can replace them. (e.g., not He walked quickly to cash his royalty check but He hurried to cash his royalty check; not She hummed happily as she edited but just She hummed as she edited, since not many folks hum unless they’re happy.

Ups and Downs. Not The writer stood up at his signing, but The writer stood at his signing. Remember, unless you’re in the military, you don’t stand down. Not The editor sat down to work but The editor sat to work.

Speaker Attributions. Only use ‘em when you need ‘em for clarity. And when you need to use them, go with he said/she said. Those tend to be invisible to the reader’s eye.

Redundant Expressions. Watch for expressions where you can drop one or two of the words and the meaning of the expression doesn’t change (e.g., not Commute back and forth to the library, but Commute to the library.)

Okay, let’s close today’s blog as we opened it, with a quote or two about editing:

 “Will you tell me my fault, frankly as to yourself, for I had rather wince, than die. Men do not call the surgeon to commend the bone, but to set it, Sir.” Emily Dickinson

 “It is with words as with sunbeams—the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.” Robert Southey

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Editing 101 – My Turn

Thanks for all the great comments and conversation on what needed to be edited in the text I posted in my last blog (Editing 101 – Y0ur Turn). You all made some great observations!

Below you’ll find the edited text. I tried doing it in Track Changes, which is what I usually use to edit a manuscript, but the blog server didn’t like that much. So I’ve made the edits red (think the dreaded red pen), and highlighted my comments for the author (who happens to be me, so I don’t say in my comments what I always say to my authors: feel free to change as you wish! It’s imperative the author knows my edits are suggestions, not mandates). The comments follow the section they refer to.

Sorry if this is confusing. Ah, the joys of finding programs that play nice together.

See if you agree with what I felt were the main editing issues.


Sammy said it was a long time since he seen Rufus. Said the ol’ dog shoulda been home long time ago. Said somethin’ musta happened to the mutt and said it was my fault fer bein’ so stupid and not tyin’ him up when I shoulda.

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Today is a Great Day to (re)Write

by Steve Laube

James Michener, the bestselling novelist, once said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” And today is your day to follow suit.

No one knows your work or what you are trying to accomplish better than you. In that sense you can be your own best editor.

In a 1958 interview with The Paris Review Ernest Hemingway was asked,

“How much rewriting do you do?”

Hemingway replied, “It depends. I rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.”

The stunned interviewer asked, “Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?”

Hemingway said simply, “Getting the words right.”

Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, said, ““By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.”

It is the same for both fiction and non-fiction since the principles are similar.

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Editing 101 – Your Turn

I’ve had a number of writers ask me if I can show an edited page from a manuscript, so they can learn from it. So that seems a fun way to start out the New Year. But what I want to do is let YOU take a turn as an editor first. So here, for your editing pleasure, is something I wrote just for this occasion. Print this out, put on your editing hat, and go for it. I’ll post the edited text next week, so we can compare and discuss!


Sammy said it was a long time since he seen Rufus. Said the ol’ dawg shoulda been home long time ago. Said somethin’ musta happent to the mutt and said it was my fault fer bein’ sew stupid and not tyin’ him up wh’n I shoulda. “Gilly, you no good” he says to me. Like he’s so good and special.

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News You Can Use – May 29, 2012

Self-Publishing: Under 10% Earn a Living – An article out of Australia makes a bold claim. I would claim, however, that only 10% of traditionally published writers earn a living too. Of course that depends on your definition of “a living.”

100 Best First Lines from Novels – In honor of the last two weeks where we talked about “first lines” I found this article from the American Book Review that chooses the top 100.

Stephen King’s 20 Tips for Becoming a Frighteningly Good Writer – Jon Morrow extracts the best parts from King’s book on writing and then applies it to the blogger.

Six Ways Copyeditors Make Your Book Better – Linda Jay Geldens makes an excellent point. Never skip this step before putting your work out in the public.

The No-Tears Guide to Podcasting – There are many who say podcasting is an excellent way to extend your platform and engage your readers.

Two Excellent Articles about Commas: Their use and misuse – written by Ben Yagoda
Fanfare for the Comma Man
The Most Comma Mistakes

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News You Can Use – May 15, 2012

J.A. Konrath Responds – [Warning: There is some coarse language in the post.] Konrath’s response to my blog post from yesterday.

Vetting a Freelance Editor – Victoria Strauss writes an incredible article on how to pick the best independent editor for your project.

Icons that Make No Sense to the New Generation of Readers – A tremendous article about words that could “date” your writing if you aren’t careful.

25 Ways to use Twitter the Wrong Way – Very educational for those who are casual users

Bible App Exceeds 50 Million Downloads – YouVersion Bible App from LifeChurch.TV. Link includes a video interview with the co-founder.

Songwriter Wins Lawsuit – If you plan on still being in the publishing game 30 years from now or if your heirs will need advice on your literary estate, read this article and see what a loophole in the copyright law can mean for you.

Enjoy this pretty cool video called “The Bible in 50 Words”
[tentblogger-vimeo 36765988]

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Are We Speaking the Same Language?

by Karen Ball

I love languages. I started studying French in the 7th grade (“Bonjour, Monsieur DuPree. Comment-allez vous?), and by the time I had my double college degree in multiple-languages and journalism, I’d studied French (12 years), Spanish (5 years), and Russian (1 year). But I confess, I never expected to have to learn a new language when I entered the publishing world.


I remember the first time I realized words and terms had very different meanings in publishing. As a PK and PGK (preacher’s kid and preacher’s grandkid), I knew my duty to widow and orphans. It was right there in the Bible. So you imagine my astonishment when I discovered it was now my goal to kill the widows and orphans. Then I learned that bleeding in the gutters had nothing to do with murder, that picas weren’t fuzzy little forest animals, leading wasn’t something done to stained glass, fonts weren’t receptacles for baptismal water, a kill fee wasn’t about hiring a hitman, and a galley wasn’t the kitchen on a ship.

It all reminded me of a line from a poster I had up in my college dorm room: I know you believe you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure that what you heard is what I really meant to say. Or the poster in a friend’s room that said, “I’m not as drunk as some thinkle peep I am.” (Okay, it has absolutely nothing to do with that last one. I just put it in because it makes me laugh…)

It’s taken years of study and practice, but I’m finally fluent in Pub-Speak. Or so I thought until a few days ago when I had a discussion of editing terms with the illustrious Steve Laube. It went something like this:

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It’s A Brave New World

I’ve been in publishing for lo, these many years (over 30), so you’d think the work would be pretty much second nature for me. No so! In fact, just this last week I did something completely new!

I edited a book, in four days, using Skype and Dropbox.

The amazing thing about this isn’t that the author and I got the book done so quickly, but that it was SO MUCH FUN! We parked on Skype for hours, so that if I had questions as I edited a chapter, I could just ask him, and if he had questions about the editing, he could just ask me. It was like being in the same room together, but without the expense or stress of travel. And I discovered that doing the edit this way gave me a fresher understanding of what the author wanted to say. It also enabled us to do a bit of arm wrestling when we disagreed on something, but to do so with humor and kindness. When you deal with issues over the phone or in email, you always run the risk of misunderstanding because folks can’t see your expressions or body language, or hear the tone of your voice. With Skype, those risks were gone, so we handled a couple of sensitive issues without frustration or misunderstanding.

And that, my friends, is a miracle!

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