blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

How to edit your writing, part 1

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All writing is rewriting, and self-editing is integral to that process.

There are books available, and really good editors as well. I learned a lot from Morgen Bailey when she edited my novel, and I wanted to share some tips I picked up over the last year or two. I hope they will help you to edit your own work, because it’s an essential skill for every writer. I will split this into several posts with a few points in each, in no particular order.

Oh but I don’t need to edit, the publisher will do that for me

Well maybe, but if your work is littered with errors and things that need fixing, you’re not creating that first impression of a writer who knows what they’re doing. You may never have the chance to show what a great story you wrote. If you write short stories, or blog posts, or anything really, you are your own editor.

All the following are suggestions. You are the author, you are in charge of your words. Feel free to disagree, just make your choices conscious ones.

Read your work aloud

This is a great way to catch awkward dialogue, choppy prose and repeated words. More of them later. If you have a Mac, you already have text to speech. Go to System Preferences, open dictation&speech, and you can specify how your text is read. Play around with gender/speed/accent, choose the keyboard shortcut, and enjoy hearing your words. It is not as mechanical as you might think. While not perfect, how many of us can get another person to read our words?

If you read it aloud, and you trip over the words, the reader is doing the same in their head. Take notes. Rewrite till it flows.

Don’t trust the spellchecker

Homonyms can trip you up. These are words which sound the same but have different meanings, like hear/here, site/sight, red/read, write/right. Spellcheck won’t highlight them. If you are unsure about a spelling or meaning, you don’t know. Look it up.

Watch sentence length

In my first drafts particularly, I am inclined to write long, rambling sentences that go on and on, one action after another, explaining the events as I see them in a way that makes perfect sense to me because I’m writing it and I just need to get it all down before I lose my thread…

See what I mean?

Sometimes you want to use a longer sentence, and I certainly don’t mean that every sentence should be short. It can lead to choppiness. Be aware of the effect you want to create. Short sentences are punchy, great for blog posts, or action scenes. Longer sentences used skilfully create flow, slow things down, and build towards a climax.

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length.

And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

Gary Provost

The application Hemingway can be useful. I don’t always agree with it, but it highlights passive voice, long sentences, complex words, adverbs, and so on. It gives a reading grade, and we do well to pitch our words at a level that most of our readers find easy to manage. It’s a good starting point, and there’s a free version.

Next time: crutch words, adverbs, was/-ing, and clichés. See you there.

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