15 Quick Editing Steps to Rewriting Success

The Editing Commandments

by Deborah Owen

Editing can get pretty confusing. What should stay and what should go? Let this article be your guide.

Editing is another name for rewriting, and rewriting can only come once you’ve finished writing; therefore, your first step should be to complete your first draft. Once you’ve finished, instead of trying to edit all of the story or article at once, make each edit accomplish a specific purpose.

Follow these 15 quick editing steps to find out how.

1. Do some warm-up writing for ten minutes before you begin editing. During this time, write about something that makes you mad… perhaps an old flame, something an old boyfriend or girlfriend did, a spanking you unjustly received—anything that will stir your emotions and creativity. When your creative juices are flowing, you can critique you own work better.

2. Keep your eye on the goal. Refer back to the rough outline you used as the basis for your first draft. (What? You didn’t use an outline? No wonder you’re reading this article.) Be sure you’ve included all the initial points you wanted to make.

3. Check for linear flow (order of events). Don’t try flashbacks unless you know what you’re doing.

4. Don’t tell what your character is thinking. SHOW it with action, demonstration, or dialogue. Keep in mind that showing always takes three to five times more words than telling. That’s okay, as long as it’s meaty.

Example of Telling: “I’m so nervous,” Jennifer thought as she saw the doctor approach.
(boo… hiss… bad writing)

Showing:  Jennifer picked on her thumb nail as the doctor approached with furrowed brow. Noises in the room amplified. Did his strides grow longer? Slower? Was everyone looking at her? Tick. Tick. She could hear the seconds clicking on the clock overhead. A tiny drop of blood appeared as she pulled the nail into the quick, but the drop of bright blood and stabbing pain were welcome. They were the only signs of reality.

5. Edit for excessive 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 say nothing. Cut your sentences until they bleed. Use only one adjective at a time. Chop your descriptions down to that which relates directly to the scene and leave only the most necessary. When you delete a favorite phrase, copy it and save it in a file for another day.

6. Delete all adverbs ending in -ly, such as sadly, hatefully, etc. The use of adverbs is a sure indicator that you aren’t engaging the technique called Show, Don’t Tell.  (See #4)

7. Sentence tags: Don’t use “said she” or “said he.” Turn those words around to read “he said” and “she said.” Delete most tag endings, such as “she said with a snicker.” If you have sufficiently built your characters and the scene, the reader will know the attitudes on display.

8. Check the verbs and replace them with jazzier ones. Examples:

•          He choked until he couldn’t breathe – He hawked until he couldn’t breathe.
•          The little girl ran down the sidewalk – The little girl skipped down the sidewalk.
•          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!

9. Douse as many forms of the verb “to be” as possible. That includes 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 (use sparingly), 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. Get rid of as many as possible because they weaken sentence structure. Likewise, using “could” and “would” will drop you into a trap that you’ll find hard to escape.

10. 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 dialogue, and that’s because people speak in mixed tenses – present, past, and future.
  • The second exception is internal dialogue (thoughts). That throws it into the omniscient voice and editors consider it a lazy writer’s way of telling what they should be showing. Don’t use it.

11. Follow the rules for prepositional phrases – no more than three to a sentence, and avoid using more than two in consecutive order. Prepositions are easy to identify. Some of the most common are: in, on, at, to, for, under, before, but there are hundreds. Find a partial list of them here: http://www.englishclub.com/grammar/prepositions-list.htm. Pick out the ones you use most and avoid them like the plague. 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.” Consecutive prepositional phrases make weak sentence construction. Note: If you begin a sentence with a prepositional phrase, place a comma at the end of it (just as I did in this sentence.)

12. Punctuation:

  • Space ONCE after a period.
  • For writing in the USA, most punctuation (except the colon) lies within the quote marks. Check to see that all of your quotes are closed.
  • Don’t use a semi-colon unless it is before the words “however” or “therefore,” (in which case, use a comma immediately after those words).
  • Don’t use colons except to list things: recipes, items of clothing, kinds of perfume, etc.
  • Use commas to separate two clauses into a compound sentence. Also use commas between city and state and to offset introductory prepositional phrases.
  • Don’t use more than one exclamation mark per every 2,000 words!!!
  • Learn to use the ellipsis (three dots) properly. Remember, the ellipsis represents a pause or interruption in the sentence. It’s easy to overuse these little devils. If you find yourself falling into that trap, use a dash instead and insert a space on each side of it.

Rules for using the ellipsis:
a. When used at the beginning of a sentence: “(space)…And that’s all he said.”
b. In the middle of a sentence: “I hated to tell you that…(space)I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
c. At the end of a sentence: “I didn’t want to tell you….(space)”
(Did you notice that the last example ended with four dots? That’s because the last dot acts as a period to end the sentence.)

13. Use the spellchecker, but don’t totally rely on it. If you use homophones such as “right” when you meant to say “write,” or “blew” instead of “blue,” it won’t catch the error. To be safe, scan for mistakes after you use the spellchecker.

14. Check your formatting. Double-space the body and indent the first line of every paragraph. Every new line of dialogue should begin on a new line; however, if guidelines state otherwise, follow the guidelines.

15. Last of all, ask a friend to read your article aloud while you take notes on places you want to change. This is the best way to get clear perspective on what you’ve written. If you don’t have someone who can read it aloud, YOU read it aloud—but be careful to read exactly what’s written and not what your mind wants to insert. Hint: Stumbling over a sentence is usually indicative of awkward wording. Rewrite it.

Follow these 15 steps and the end result will be crisp, easy-to-understand writing that is stuffed with meat. What reader can resist that?

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8 Editing Steps to Perfection

Mastering Editing

by Deborah Owen

Creative writers – don’t wait to edit your work until you know every word by heart – learn to edit the easy way. Do you know what to look for in editing? Have you wondered what should stay and what should go? By the time you read this article, you will know the answers to these questions.

  • One of the first things to look for is prepositional phrases. You can identify       prepositions easily. The most common ones are: in, on, at, to, for, under, before.  Prepositional phrases usually tell when or where, such as: “I will meet you in the after life,” 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.
  •  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.
  • It should be unnecessary to mention using the spellchecker, but you would be surprised how many writers fail to use this most valuable tool. However, 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. To be safe, scan for errors after you use the spellchecker.
  • Look for inappropriate punctuation. Be sure your quotations are closed. Use hyphens and colons properly. Don’t use a semi-colon when a comma will do. Be sure to use commas properly, i.e., to separate two clauses in a compound sentence, between city and state, etc.
  • 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.
  • Watch for tense changes. If you begin in the past tense, the entire story must be written in the past tense, with one possible exception. The only time you can properly change tenses is in dialogue, and that is because people normally speak in present, past and future tenses.
  • One of the most important parts of editing is dousing all forms of the verb “to 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. Get rid of as many of these as possible. They weaken your work.
  • Check every verb in every sentence and see if you can replace it with a jazzy verb. This is the finishing touch that 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?

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Creative Writers Guilty of Murdering Babies

Rhetorical Homicide 

by Deborah Owen

When creative writers think of parenting, they normally think of someone biologically bearing a child, but there is more than one kind of parent. There is the unmarried parent, the divorced parent, the parent-to-be, the adoptive parent, to name a few. And then, there’s parenting the created word. Although it may not conjure up the same status as that of physical parenting, the labor is just as real.

Every writer knows their words are their babies, and heaven help the critic who says we should edit even more. Not only is it unforgivable, it cuts to the core of our being. This is one area where writers’ groups provide an invaluable service. There’s no better place to grow a thick skin than in a writer’s group. After all, would you rather hear stinging criticism from another newbie, or from an editor who runs over you with cleat shoes?

Be Your Own Toughest Critic

There is a simple trick to avoid this kind of literary suffering, and that is to murder your own babies. You will recognize the right babies to murder when the critic part of you cries out, “That doesn’t really fit,” and the author section cries out, “but I like it!” You know in your heart it’s time to pull out your scalpel and begin cutting. Although the wound will bleed, you will know you are maturing as a writer.

But far better than discarding the phrase altogether, copy, and drop it into a special file. One of these days, you will find the perfect place for that phrase.

The best time to murder your babies is when you edit for verbiage (wordiness). Learn to say the same thing in fewer words. Trim away the fat and leave only the lean. That means edit scenes, edit dialogue, and edit the plot in general. Brevity is the key ingredient that must stay. Say it with less. Say it better. Jazz your verbs.

Especially look for prepositional phrases. Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you should never have more than three prepositional phrases to a sentence and not more than two in consecutive order.

Let’s be honest – all writers use padding. It is a little-thought-of procedure whereby we writers drag out a scene or dialogue – usually because we can’t find the right words or we’re having a bad time writing.

Have you ever seen a comedian who has his pulse on the audience and then makes the mistake of dragging a joke on… and on… and on… like a plane that can’t find a landing field? That’s a sure sign of someone enjoying their 15 minutes of fame and not wanting it to end. It’s the same thing with us writers. We have the audience in the palms of our hands and we hate to let them go. But let them go we must, because the readers need time to rest their minds so they can better absorb the chunks of meat they have yet to digest.

So the next time you’re editing, get the scalpel and bandages out. Prepare to dissect and dismember your baby. Although you may barely survive, your baby will be the better for it.

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