Editing Your Writing

1. Every article/story needs several edits. Piecemeal your editing. First, go through and look for prepositional phrases. The most common ones begin with one of these words: in, with, as, on, at, to, for, under, before. Prepositional phrases usually tell when or where, such as: “I will meet you IN the afterlife,” or “He told his daughter TO go into the house.” You should never have more than three prepositional phrases to a sentence, and preferably only two.

2. Watch for wordiness, also known as verbiage. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines verbiage as “profusion of words, usually of little or obscure content”. In other words, excess words that say nothing. Cut your sentences until they bleed. Chop your descriptions down to that which relates directly to the scene, and leave nothing but the most necessary meat.

3. Use the spellchecker, but don’t totally rely on it. If you use the word “right” instead of “write”, or “blew” instead of “blue”, it will not catch the error. Always proofread.

4. Look for inappropriate punctuation. Be sure your quotations are closed. Almost all punctuation should be inside the quotes with the exception of the colon and semi-colon, but avoid using them.

5. Check that your order of events is stated properly. Unless you are doing a flashback, you will only confuse the reader if you switch back and forth within a given time frame.

6. Watch for tense changes. If you begin in past tense, the entire story must be written in past tense, with two exceptions – one of which you should never use. The first exception is in dialog, and that is because people normally speak in present, past and future tenses. The second exception that you should never use is revealing internal dialogue (thoughts). That throws it into the omniscient voice and editors won’t buy it now. If you are a person who persists in using omniscient voice anyway, don’t use quotes. Place it in italics.

7. One of the most important parts of editing is dousing all forms of the verb “to be”, which would be “is”, “am”, “are”, “was”, “were”, “be”, “being” and “been”. These are “dead” verbs that say nothing. According to Wikipedia, allowed forms are: become, has, have, had, I’ve, you’ve, do, does, doing, did, can, could, will, would, shall, should, ought, may, might and must. The fact that they are allowed, however, does not make them desirable. You won’t be able to get rid of all of them, but try.

8. On your very last edit, check very verb in every sentence and see if you can replace them with jazzier ones. Examples:

• He choked until he couldn’t breathe – He hawked until he couldn’t breathe.
• The boy hit the ball out of the park – The boy whanged the ball out of the park.

Jazzing your verbs (choosing more active verbs) will make your work glow.

So when you edit, watch for these eight things. The end result will be crisp, easy-to-understand writing that is stuffed with meat. What reader can resist that?

For more great writing tips, get The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at http://www.creativewritinginstitute.com.


6 thoughts on “Editing Your Writing

  1. Great tips – thanks. As an editor, I see a LOT of writers who put punctuation outside the quotation marks. One hint I also give is to read the piece aloud (with no one else around, of course!). This allows you to HEAR mistakes sometimes; e.g., if a sentence is too long, you’ll be breathless by the time you hit the end of it. Pause at periods and commas. If the pause sounds odd, maybe the comma is misplaced. Or if you pause and there is no comma, maybe there should be one.


    1. Welcome to my blog. Thank you for your excellent comment. I can’t count the times that I thought I could mentally hear my article when I read it silently. To double check myself, I read it aloud. I hope my readers will follow your advice because it really works. It also works for those very important emails. Happy day!


  2. Excellent tips, Deborah! I really like the idea of doing the editing in a piecemeal fashion. I am going to have to try that!


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