As an editor, I’ve found that all writers — including me — have patterns of writing that I have to fix during editing. Over time, you learn some of your own quirks. But when you work on the same piece of writing day in day out, you get too close to your sentences to spot everything.
That’s when other writers who come to your work with a fresh perspective are invaluable.
I met with my writer’s group yesterday and feedback revealed overused and unnecessary words, repeated phrases or sentences left over from when I moved sections around, and passive writing that I missed when I read my manuscript for the umpteenth time.
At a certain point, it’s impossible to effectively edit our own work. Our brains glaze over.
If you start figuring out these patterns (with a little help from your friends), you’ll become a better writer. You’ll be more effective at self-editing because you’ll have a new level of awareness. Read more
After you’ve spent months and even years working on a manuscript, it can be hard to see the trees for the forest or the forest for the trees, to use a woodsy, Pacific Northwest kind of saying.
That’s when I go back to a practice I learned from one of my MFA writing advisors. In one of our group meetings, we all cut up pages of our manuscript into strips and rearranged the paragraphs and sentences to see if our stories flowed better.
Genius artist Michelangelo once said about his work: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
I’m currently working on another round of memoir revisions. No matter how long it’s been since I’ve worked on it, I always feel too close to it to be as objective as I’d like. Something about physically cutting strips of sentences and paragraphs and moving them around gives me a new perspective. It also feels different from just reading the printed pages and making notes, although that’s part of revision strategy. Read my last blog post, Critique your manuscript with this checklist, to learn more.
Here’s one way to go about cutting up your manuscript:
1. Save your manuscript as a separate document. This is so that you can revert back or can refer back to the original to compare how it all flows. Read more
Having recently finished NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I’m beginning to revise some of my 50,000 words. Below are three of my favorites posts about revision techniques and strategies. As I continue to work on my story, I find it helpful to keep these tips in mind. I hope you find them useful as well:
Two Steps to Stronger Verbs shows how to make your verbs stronger, which will make your stories and poetry stronger.
Four Ways to Revise Scenes helps examine scenes for these four key elements.
Edit Out Literary Throat Clearing to Make Your Work Stronger is a post about eliminating empty words or phrases in your writing.
In a webinar Tuesday, James Scott Bell shared some writing best practices. For now, here are four tidbits of writing wisdom. Watch for more words of writing writing wisdom in my next post.
1. Write – It’s pretty obvious, but how many people do you know who “want to write a book someday,” but never seem to do it? Probably because they don’t just write. It’s the first step.
2.Don’t bore the reader – Whatever you do, if you want to write a gripping book, you can’t be boring. Keep this idea in the back of your mind as you write. Read more
Writing a first draft is our opportunity as artists to follow the flow of our creativity, to let go and see where it takes us. Subsequent drafts are where we enter our editor mind and make sense of it all.
I do a lot of literary throat clearing in my first drafts. I used to worry about it and tried to fix it as I went, but I learned that was a waste of time. I learned some of what I’d written would be cut, so why waste time line-editing sentences before I’ve edited for plot or meaning?
When I am ready to examine my work at the sentence level, one thing I do is search for my throat-clearing words or phrases. These are empty or repetitious words that weaken my writing.
What I’ve noticed is they change over time. Evidently, I’m an evolutionary throat clearer. Read more
In my previous post introducing The Editing Games, I blogged about how I turned my most recent editing experience into a series of games to keep myself motivated.
Below are two more games I play to keep myself amused and on track. I hope you find them useful:
Game # 3: The Verb Game
After I’m done editing for story and characterization–when I think I’ve got the words in the right order on the page–I play the verb game. I take a chapter at a time (doing this while on the treadmill or elliptical machine is a great way to multi-task) and highlight each and every verb. Then I look at each highlighted word to see if there’s a better, stronger or more precise verb that I could use.
This game will do two things: 1) help make your story stronger and 2) train your brain for the future. If you really do this, you’ll be surprised at how your brain will begin to come up with stronger verbs the first time around.
Game # 4: The Repetition Game
I have a running outline of my chapters to keep track of certain things like plot, themes, character traits, and symbols or objects. If I’m repeating something for a reason–say a character trait like one character’s nervous goat laugh or an object like another character’s jet black toupee–I list this in my outline and make sure that I repeat this trait or object several times during the course of the story. I may even change the trait or object slightly to show growth of the character or a change of mood.
These repetitions can become threads to keep your story cohesive or lend resonance to your manuscript. Just remember: too many repetitions make the reader feel like they’re being harangued and too few repetitions will leave the reader in the dark. In my 300-page manuscript I typically repeat my threads a minimum of three times and usually more like five to six times as long as it doesn’t feel overdone.
What editing techniques or tricks do you use to keep yourself on target?
Editing. Does it ever end? Maybe if we have an apocalypse—where we writers would be too busy scrambling to save our skins or ambling down The Road trying to hide from lawless survivors. Or, would we take time out from the metaphorical red pen if compelled to compete with Katniss in The Hunger Games?
Nah. Being writers who want to get our work published, we’d probably just turn the arena into a battlefield of dangling modifiers, unnecessary adverbs, overwrought adjectives, and just plain old unnecessary words aka “fat.” Yes, in editing mode, we writers are fat trimmers. Read more