By: Marilyn L. Davis
Editing: The Tidying Process
“Learn to enjoy this tidying process. I don’t like to write; I like to have written. But I love to rewrite. I especially like to cut: to press the DELETE key and see an unnecessary word or phrase or sentence vanish into the electricity. I like to replace a humdrum word with one that has more precision or color. I like to strengthen the transition between one sentence and another. I like to rephrase a drab sentence to give it a more pleasing rhythm or a more graceful musical line. With every small refinement I feel that I’m coming nearer to where I would like to arrive, and when I finally get there, I know it was the rewriting, not the writing, that won the game.” –William Zinsser, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
Did They Even Edit?
As an editor, I see all submissions to Two Drops of Ink. There are times that I wonder if some of the writers took the time to edit. Please don’t think I’m critical when I write that, but I get some submissions that don’t appear to have even fundamental typos corrected.
However, I have to be honest here. If the post is full of problems, I don’t enjoy over-correcting what the writer should have caught for whatever reasons. It’s also hard to make a post shine if the writing is fundamentally dull, overly cliched, doesn’t have what the book biz refers to as good bones, or is full of syntax issues.
Writers and Editors: The Working Relationship
I also realize that an editor’s job is to take a seemingly mediocre piece of content and make it into something better. When writers and editors work together, they create a stronger, rhythmic post, and that is the part I enjoy most about the editing process.
Knowing that a writer trusted me with their choice of words, voice, and the subject is not something that I take lightly. I respect what the writer is trying to convey in their post, and I sincerely hope that I showcase it well with edits.
I know I’ve done my job when a contributor tells me, “Thanks for making my piece shine.”
Self-Editing? Do More Than Use Spell Check
I also understand that self-editing is difficult. You know what you want to say and, therefore, will miss a lot of simple mistakes as you’re typing.
‘It,’ ‘is,’ and ‘if’ are all correct words and will not get flagged using Microsoft Word’s spell check, but they may not be the correct word.
I could write spill chick, and that would even fly. However, we all know that spill chick is not the same as spell check.
Beyond this basic check, here are six ways to self-edit that will improve any writing you submit.
1. Read Your Post in a Different Format
We engage with paper differently from seeing the exact words on the screen. Print out your post.
I’ve also printed in an unusual color, like turquoise, and found that some words, or even phrases, didn’t make sense. Yet, if I looked at my screen, it seemed better. I trusted the printed version and made corrections.
You can also change the font or size to distinguish the writing further. I find it helpful to increase the line spacing, so instead of 1.15, I’ll expand it to 2.0, which gives me room on the printed version to insert revisions or line out an entire passage.
If there is a passage that I’m unsure of, I’ll often highlight it, even in a first draft. It takes a minute and doesn’t significantly interrupt the flow of writing.
2. Take a Mental Break
Most of us have an idea for our posts, do some research, and then click away at the keys. We may end up with 300 or 1000 words before we take a break to find an image, link to our research, or grab a cup of coffee.
There’s a reason that we get distracted from our writing. Our brain is tired. And a tired brain can be creative or observant.
Since we need our brains to write, we need to respect when our brain has had enough. It’s time to walk away from the writing. I like to print out my draft at this point and read it as I described in number one.
For some reason, whether it’s because I’m not engaging my fingers on the keyboard or not searching for links and images, reading the work is different again.
However, I also know that there are times that I’m merely tired of words and do not read the draft. I’ll do something completely mindless or check social media to give my “writing brain” a break.
3. Read Your Post Out Loud to Edit
You’re more likely to catch the mistakes, awkward phrases, or run-on sentences with a rested brain. Reading your post out loud accomplishes several things:
- You can hear the rhythm of your words. If you’re stumbling, so will your reader.
Just as you don’t want to say, “um,” “uh,” “er,” and “you know” when talking to someone or giving a speech, have you written words that created awkward moments for the reader? Rewrite the passage if you can’t understand what you wrote or realize that you’ve included either too much information or too little.
- Do the words sound like you? Are they part of your working or typical vocabulary?
- Conversational posts engage readers better.
A more formal tone can mask your personality. Whether you are educating, entertaining, or enchanting your readers, your voice and style are what they want in the post. Readers want to form a connection to the writer even as they are learning. If it doesn’t sound like you, it’s not you. Rewrite it.
4. Are You Repeating Yourself?
While Stephen King frowns on using a Thesaurus, I think educating ourselves with similar words helps improve our writing. We all fall victim to the limited vocabulary syndrome at times. No, it’s not a legitimate diagnosis, but we tend to use the exact words repeatedly. Granted, if I’m writing about words and editing, they might show up in every section of the writing, but we sometimes get lazy in our writing and repeat words instead of looking for a better choice of words.
Take feelings, for instance. There are five general categories:
- Bad (feelings like jealousy, envy, and guilty)
- Scared (sorry, there’s no rhyming one for this)
Since we probably learned these words in first grade, shouldn’t we know these feelings’ subtle nuances or degrees as adult writers? Would irritated, frustrated, or enraged possibly work better to convey the depth of feeling mad?
Even if you don’t use a Thesaurus, a word frequency counter might help you see where you’re repetitive in your writing.
5. Use Track Changes
One of Word’s Track Changes features that I like is that the original writing is still visible even after making a change. I will often edit a new writer using this as well. It allows them to see where I think something needs changing in their submission while still recognizing their original.
There is also a ‘comment’ element where I can say why I think a change is necessary. Each change is then accepted or rejected.
I’ve had one writer tell me that if they didn’t have the original, they wouldn’t be able to see how my edits strengthened a sentence, corrected the punctuation, or clarified a passage.
6. Run Every Post Through Grammarly
Grammarly is an app that checks over 250 writing errors. Beyond spell check, some features look for subject-verb agreement, modifier placement, punctuation, and contextual spelling mistakes.
Grammarly also frowns on weak or overused words, so know that ‘very’ will get flagged as weak by Grammarly. Mark Twain admonished us to “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it, and the writing will be just as it should be.”
Although I don’t know that I’ll include ‘damn’ in each of the posts I edit, I know that if you use these six suggestions, I’ll probably edit less, and damn, I’ll probably publish more.
Bio: Marilyn L. Davis
She is the Editor-in-chief at Two Drops of Ink and From Addict 2 Advocate.
She is also the author of Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate and Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook. Both are available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, and other retailers.
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