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Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

Postby glorybee » Sat Apr 26, 2014 11:42 am

It was suggested that I do a lesson on self-editing—something I’m somewhat reluctant to do because although I’m not opposed to self-editing, I don’t believe that it should—in most cases—take the place of professional editing. I promise that I’m not saying this because I’m an editor; I have several reasons for advocating for having another person edit your work:

1. We have all experienced this—the phenomenon of reading our own piece several times and missing a small error because we know what it is supposed to say. When another pair of eyes looks at what you’ve written, that person is far more likely to catch small errors and typos that you have missed.

2. Even more significant, a second or third reader may catch more significant problems in your text: plot holes, missing background information, inaccuracies and the like. While a character’s actions may make perfect sense to you because you have created his back story and you hold it in your head, to another reader who cannot read your mind, those actions may be perplexing.

3. Frankly, a professional editor may know more about some aspects of writing than you do. Writing mechanics…the current market…what works best with your intended audience or in your chosen genre…these and more are all types of things that an editor can help you with.

4. If you are looking to publish—whether for a newsletter, a magazine, or a publishing house—your work will not get past the first desk it crosses if it is full or errors or otherwise not suitable.

5. Even if you’re self-publishing, you don’t want your name on a poorly-edited work. I’ve done editing work for several clients who rushed to self-publish without adequate editing, and have been embarrassed when they discovered that their work was not the best.

Nevertheless, there are times when you’ll want to self-edit. Many writing contests, for example (including FaithWriters’ Writing Challenge) do not allow work that has been edited by others. (See the Writing Challenge rules here; a “buddy” is permitted for fine tuning, but not for substantive editing.) And many of you will want to “clean up” your MS a bit before sending it to an editor—sort of like rinsing the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Here then is a list of the sorts of things that you might want to look at if you’re going to give self-editing a go:

1. Eliminate unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. In places where you have an adjective + noun combination or an verb + adverb combination, see if there’s a single, more interesting noun or verb that would be better. In places where you have described something with a string of adjectives or adjective phrases, eliminate all but one of them.

2. Read out loud and see if there are distinctive words or phrases that you use a lot. If so, replace some of them with synonyms.

3. Look for usage of the “to be” verbs, and try to replace those with more interesting verbs.

4. Eliminate clichés. Eliminate clichés. Eliminate clichés. If you have seen it or heard it before, you might want to get rid of it.

5. Look at the flow of your piece (something else that will be evident when you read aloud). Do you have a mixture of short and long sentences? If they’re all short, find ways to combine sentences. If they all tend to be long, break some of them into shorter sentences. Same thing with paragraphs—varying lengths.

6. Along the same line with #5—publishers like a good amount of white space. Be sure that you have enough dialogue and short paragraphs for modern audiences’ short attention spans.
These were the things that occurred to me as I typed this lesson, but I thought I’d take this to several people who have experience with self-editing. Here is a list of some of the best ideas I got from them:

1. Make a list of your own common errors, and read through it several times, checking against that list.

2. Print it on paper and edit there.

3. Look for too many sentences that begin with characters’ names or with pronouns.

4. Check for POV errors—if it’s written in 3rd person limited or 1st person, be sure not to report things that happen in the heads of other characters.

5. Get rid of stuff that doesn’t move the story along or contribute to characterization.

Finally, almost everyone I asked said that they read aloud (and when I’m doing professional editing, I read aloud, too). It’s amazing how much you can catch that way. One of my writing friends even reads aloud backward—not word-by-word, but paragraph by paragraph, and sometimes even sentence by sentence. It works for her, and it may works for you, too.

No homework this week, but I welcome your comments or questions on self-editing or on editing in general.

Also, I encourage you again to submit pieces to the Critique Circle. I’ve been checking it daily, and I’m eager to critique your pieces, but there are very few new submissions there. It’s a great place to put Writing Challenge entries that didn’t do as well as you’d hoped, and to get some valuable feedback.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

Postby itsjoanne » Sat Apr 26, 2014 1:24 pm

These are all FABULOUS tips, Jan - and I can echo your friend about reading the piece aloud backward (sentence by sentence) - I JUST did this for one of my picture book manuscripts, and it is amazing how many things I caught in such a short manuscript (one I had read through at least a dozen times before). I've also heard (but not yet tried) that having SOMEONE ELSE read your story aloud to you helps with that kind of thing - and seeing where the reader trips up can help you with phrasing and clearing up comprehension.

And I agree with you, Jan, about needing other eyes besides your own (even though I am ALSO an editor LOL). I almost always miss something - we know our stories so well, we don't notice if, for instance, we have a word twice, or leave a word out, or if something isn't clear without the backstory in our heads. :)

Repetitive words are definitely a very good thing to look for as you self-edit, and one of the more fun ways I've found to do this is through my favorite "fun/helpful" website, Wordle. You can post your story/article/novel in there, and it will create a word cloud for you, with the size of the words showing how often you use them. It doesn't save the text anywhere, so it's safe. And they're just plain fun to play with.

Guess where I'll be fiddling for the next few minutes (hopefully only the next few LOL) :hide
Last edited by itsjoanne on Sat Apr 26, 2014 8:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

Postby RedBaron » Sat Apr 26, 2014 5:17 pm

I just did the reading out loud trick with Eileen when she was editing a composition assignment. I read it to her and explained why some things worked and some didn't.

She was like, "I can't remember all those corrections!"

I told her I didn't expect her to. I expected her to go through it herself and try it :)
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Re: Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

Postby WriterFearNot » Sat Apr 26, 2014 6:24 pm

I agree that in most cases self-editing should not be used as a stand-alone and final edit. I'm a seven to twenty draft gal, running through a piece over and over and over before letting anyone else see it. I used to write a serial fiction online and even though I put each entry through that "seven to twenty edit runs," I almost never failed to find an error on the final posted piece sometime later.

I'm also the type of person who always rinses the dishes before running it through the dishwasher. Back in the days that I had a housekeeper, I used to run through the house picking everything up before the housekeeper arrived. I don't want my dishwasher or housekeeper, (or editor) to waste its or her valuable time, energy, and insight on silly stuff I could have taken care of myself. So I guess I'm saying I'm a big fan of self-editing. But I'm an even bigger fan of professional editing services, because like I said, I already know that no amount of personal effort will make my writing shine as much as it does after running through the hands of an editor.

Jan, I love this list! One tip that's brand new to me is "reading aloud and backwards." I'm going to try that! :coolsign

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Re: Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

Postby lish1936 » Sat Apr 26, 2014 6:48 pm

Jan wrote:...a “buddy” is permitted fine tuning, but not for substantive editing.)


Jan,
As it relates to the Writing Challenge, could you give a few examples of what you mean by "fine tuning"? Except for #1 on your list ( small errors and typos), would everything else come under the category of "substantive"?

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Re: Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

Postby glorybee » Sat Apr 26, 2014 6:57 pm

lish1936 wrote:
Jan wrote:...a “buddy” is permitted fine tuning, but not for substantive editing.)


Jan,
As it relates to the Writing Challenge, could you give a few examples of what you mean by "fine tuning"? Except for #1 on your list ( small errors and typos), would everything else come under the category of "substantive"?

Lillian


Exactly what you said. Challenge buddies may check your work for mechanical errors: spelling, grammar, punctuation, typos. They should not suggest improvements to the content. Plotting, characterization, consistency, voice--all of those and anything else beyond the polishes mentioned earlier should not be done.

Of course, there's no way for the judges to know what sort of help has been given by a buddy--it's all on the honor system.
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Re: Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

Postby mimileola » Sat Apr 26, 2014 11:01 pm

Ah, finally able to post in the forum. I love this lesson, Jan. Last year I was in a workshop with literary agent, Steve Laube. He stressed about reading our work out loud, and also having someone else read it aloud to us. It's true, you catch so much more that way.

Our writers' group met after that and we brought five pages of our WIP. We read each other's out loud. Because, like you mentioned, even reading our own stuff, we know what we wanted to say, so we'll even read aloud like that. It was great.

Thanks so much, Jan. God bless! Oh, and going to try to send something to the critique circle.

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Re: Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

Postby CatLin » Sat Apr 26, 2014 11:24 pm

I've done the "read backward" trick before - but I do word for word. Not for content but for silly typos. I try never to submit anything (or publicize in the case of my day job) without at least one other person's proofread, no matter how many times I've looked at it myself.

Lillian, I'd say that, in the case of the The Challenge a "buddy editor" would be considered the same as a proof reader - please find my typos, misspellings, and point out a sentence or paragraph that isn't clear.

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Re: Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

Postby RachelM » Sun Apr 27, 2014 12:49 am

I'm sold on sending my work to a professional editor, but I love the list for self-editing too. All these tips help me to be a better writer. :)

I go over my pieces several times and then I always read them out loud to my husband. It's great for finding typos, repetition, and clumsy sentences. I love the idea of reading backwards paragraph by paragraph!

I know I need more help with number 3: "Look for usage of the "to be" verbs, and try to replace those with more interesting verbs." I don't quite get it yet. I'm off to see if I can find a previous lessons of yours on this topic.
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Re: Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

Postby RachelM » Sun Apr 27, 2014 12:54 am

Jan, I couldn't find a lesson on limiting "to be" verbs. Is there one? Is this the same thing as passive sentences?
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Re: Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

Postby glorybee » Sun Apr 27, 2014 2:19 pm

Not all sentences that contain "to be" verbs are passive, nor are all passive sentences bad. But as a general rule, there are many, many times when "to be" verbs can be replaced by more interesting verbs, or just eliminated with slight modifications to the sentence.

THIS: There are thousands of people who enjoy "Downton Abbey."

CAN BE REPLACED WITH THIS: Thousands of people enjoy "Downton Abbey."

THIS: "Downton Abbey" is a wonderful television show because of its period costumes and engaging characters.

CAN BE REPLACED WITH THIS: "Downton Abbey charms people with its period costumes and engaging characters.
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Re: Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

Postby RachelM » Sun Apr 27, 2014 7:24 pm

Thank you for the examples, Jan! I don't know why I've had a hard time wrapping my head around this before, but your examples help me to see how a stronger verb can really "make" the sentence.
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Re: Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

Postby lish1936 » Sun Apr 27, 2014 8:02 pm

I read my article out loud and discovered three "thats" in one paragraph. Any suggestions, Jan, for avoiding the "thats"? (I think the question mark is in the right place.) :)

Ex: "We wanted love’s banner to be big enough so that we could experience the hunger that a bowl of porridge and one meal a day could not satisfy. We wished for enough love to sleep on a cot that left little room for turning bodies much less entertaining dreams."


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Re: Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

Postby glorybee » Sun Apr 27, 2014 9:38 pm

lish1936 wrote:I read my article out loud and discovered three "thats" in one paragraph. Any suggestions, Jan, for avoiding the "thats"? (I think the question mark is in the right place.) :)

Ex: "We wanted love’s banner to be big enough so that we could experience the hunger that a bowl of porridge and one meal a day could not satisfy. We wished for enough love to sleep on a cot that left little room for turning bodies much less entertaining dreams."


Lillian


The first one can just be eliminated; the meaning will not change. The next two are needed unless you do some significant re-wording--perhaps something like "...the hunger left unsatisfied by a bowl..." You don't have to get rid of every "that," though--in fact, when I'm editing, I often put them in. You could leave one or the other of the last two with no problem at all.

Punctuation always goes inside quotation marks, by the way.
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Re: Be A Better Writer--Self-Editing

Postby lish1936 » Sun Apr 27, 2014 10:02 pm

Please, please help me clear up my confusion. I can always blame my age for not getting it. :D

We can proofread/fine tune a buddy's piece for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence clarity, but we cannot use the rating categories to suggest changes to pre-submission entries, as Deb seems to be saying below. :?

Catlin wrote:Lillian, I'd say that, in the case of The Challenge a "buddy editor" would be considered the same as a proof reader - please find my typos, misspellings, and point out a sentence or paragraph that isn't clear.


Jan wrote:Exactly what you said. Challenge buddies may check your work for mechanical errors: spelling, grammar, punctuation, typos. They should not suggest improvements to the content.


Deb wrote:As part of our desire to help you hone your critiquing skills when leaving feedback on entries, as well as when working as part of a Challenge Buddy group, we're more than happy to make the rating worksheet available. If you keep this scale in mind when reading each entry (whether as part of a pre-submission Buddy group or later when commenting), it will help you to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses as you work through each of the ratings categories.


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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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