Editing Your Work
You have written your Poem/Story/Novel. You have spent hours, days, weeks, months, or even years on it. Every word has been carefully selected. Every image, pulled straight from your heart. There's nothing more to say and nothing that can be left unsaid. Now what?
Now is the time to cut the fat. Now is the time to shore up the foundation and to replace the clutter of tchotchkes on the mantle with a solitary, but more meaningful, photo of a loved one. You're looking to make your work sharper, cleaner, and stronger.
Even the best writers' works need this trimming, focusing, and tightening. A diamond in the rough may hold beauty, but can usually benefit from careful cutting and polishing. However, editing is often the most difficult part of the process. Where do you even begin?
We suggest you break the task into pieces.
It is difficult, particularly for the inexperienced writer, to read a work and simultaneously edit for all problem areas. Better, if time permits, to look for one issue in each review. For instance, first, sweep the work looking for the passive voice. Next time, search for "and" conjunctions that could be dropped to make two sentences, or check for redundant words, or revise weak verbs bolstered by adverbs, and so on.
At the copy-edit stage, if not before, turn on proofing in your word-processor for both grammar and style. Style options are especially useful in showing passive sentences, wordiness, and missing punctuation. You might also copy and paste your work (or chapters from your work) to a website like http://editminion.com to flag issues with your adverb usage as well as other problem areas.
Still not sure where to start? Try the following list:
- Delete any sentence that fails to reveal character, advance the plot, or enhance the reader’s sense of immersion in the work’s atmosphere.
- Eliminate dialogue tags wherever the dialogue makes them redundant, or where it is possible to replace them with action.
- Do not put your readers to sleep by using the passive voice.
- If it does the job, choose a simple word rather than an elegant, polysyllabic word.
- Break up very long sentences but also avoid a stream of short sentences. Varying sentence length wards off boredom. If a passage becomes more intense, consider beginning with longer sentences and moving to shorter sentences.
- A sentence is often most effective when it climaxes with its most significant part at the end.
- Ruthlessly eliminate all unnecessary words. Perhaps “shouted loudly” could become “shouted.”
- Watch for over-used words. (Ex: “Better prepared against someone better armed.”) Look for less-used words repeated within pages from each other, or rare words duplicated anywhere in the work.
- Examine all verb/adverbs. Would a stronger verb work? (Ex: “They moved quietly into the lane” vs. “They stole into the lane.”)
- Inappropriate use of progressive tense or gerunds (verb + “ing”) will mark the author as an amateur. Be careful with impossibilities, such as, "Going down the hall he turned the door knob."
- Replace any weak words like “very” or “pretty” unless they serve a purpose in the dialogue.
- Do not entirely rely on a spellchecker. Verify commonly misspelled words such as “to” and “too,” and less familiar words (Ex: should it be “wrack,” or perhaps it might be “rack”?)
- Microsoft Word, with style correction turned on, will suggest comma usage. Consult a style manual regarding commas, especially as to restrictive clauses (Ex: “The book that’s on the table is hers.” No commas are needed because “that’s on the table” indicates which book, i.e., it is restrictive), independent clauses joined by a conjunction (Ex: “Pat hit the ball, and he ran” vs. “Pat hit the ball and ran”); introductory expressions (Ex: “Incidentally, how are you?”)