By: Marilyn L. Davis
Did They Even Edit?
As an editor, I see all of the submissions to Two Drops of Ink, and I wonder if some of the writers actually took the time to edit. Please don’t think I’m overly critical when I write that, but I get some submissions that don’t appear to have even basic typos corrected.
I also realize that the job of an editor is to take a seemingly mediocre piece of content and make it into something better. I know I’ve done my job when a contributor tells me, “Thanks for making my piece shine.”
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 subject is not something that I take lightly. I respect what the writer is trying to convey in their post; I sincerely hope that I showcase it well with edits.
However, I have to be honest here. If the post is full of problem prose, for whatever reasons, I don’t enjoy over-correcting what the writer should have caught. 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.
Before You Submit, Do More Than Spell Check
I also understand that self-editing is difficult. You know exactly what you wanted 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 if using Microsoft Word’s spell check. In fact, 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 a spell check, here are six ways that you can self-edit that are guaranteed to improve any writing that you submit.
1. Read Your Post in a Different Format
We engage with paper differently than we see the same words on the screen. So 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 it got good comments.
You can also change the font or size to further distinguish the writing. I find it helpful to increase the line spacing so instead of 1.15, I’ll expand it to 2.0. This way, I’ve got 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 just 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 start clicking 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 just grab a cup of coffee. There’s a reason that we get distracted from our writing. Our brain is tired. And a tired brain doesn’t produce good copy.
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 it. I’ll do something completely mindless or check social media to give my “writing brain” a break.
3. Read Your Post Out Loud
With a rested brain, you’re more likely to catch the mistakes, awkward phrases, or run on sentences.
Reading your post out loud accomplishes several things:
- You can hear the thythm 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? If you can’t make sense of what you wrote, or you realize that you’ve included either too much information or too little, rewrite the passage.
- Do the words sound like you? Are they part of your working or normal vocabulary?
A more formal tone can mask your personality. Whether you are educating, entertaining, or enchanting your readers, it’s your voice and style that 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. Is This Writing A Rehash?
While Stephen King frowns on using a Thesaurus, I think educating ourselves with comparable 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 same 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 as adult writers know the subtle nuances or degrees of these feelings? 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 the features of Word’s Track Changes 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. But 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, and Mark Twain, who 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 is the Editor-in-chief at Two Drops of Inkand From Addict 2 Advocate. She is a charter member of the cult of the paper – in other words, she reads a lot.
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