Editing for writers

One of the reasons I love editing is that I get to cut bullshit all the time. (Other added benefits: I get to justify my dirty mind by scouting for, er, unintended second meanings and I don’t have to put on real clothes until noon.)

I think this is especially true when I’m editing creative work. I know what you writers are like. You’re all bullshit artists, rushing to get words on the page so you can get back to your kids, go to the bar, or scratch your balls. You’re not quite sure how your gift, talent, or whatever you have works and so you’re not always 100% sure what is good and what is not. So you blurt it all out and hope no one calls you on it.

Not so fast, my friends. What does “full of yesterdays” mean? When you said you “laughed about it for days” you didn’t really laugh for days, did you? How did you laugh about it really? Was the day really beautiful? What made it beautiful?

My job is to call you on it, to make you think, to make you push yourself. What are you really trying to say? Is this important to the reader? Is this a cliche? No, really, isn’t it a little bit of a cliche? What details can you add to make it not a cliche? I know you don’t think it’s a cliche, but it probably is. Was that really what it was like? Would your character really say that? Isn’t there a better way to put this? If I didn’t know you, would I know what the hell you were talking about? Can you make this sentence as good as the one before it?

What are your questions?


10 responses to “Editing for writers

    • 1. Hold your breath and let an editor find it; it’s easier that way. Or
      2. Look only at your big moments in the work; are there cliches there?
      3. Don’t call me out on my semicolon usage, as I’m only a sip into my coffee today :).

  1. If I didn’t know you, would I know what the hell you were talking about?

    Note to self: remember this line forever. It will help guide you through the darkness.

  2. I have to switch to purple now – cliche purple because the words are no longer visible through the red. But the colors sure are pretty.

    I have many questions; one in particular. How do you ever keep this all straight? It’s not like you can copy it on your arm under your sleeve.

    • You can’t ever keep it all straight. But there are tactics. You can have a checklist. Professional editors know that you can’t read for everything all of the time. So you can have a cliche read and a grammar read, and those are two separate reads. You can also know what your bad habits are and read for them.

      It also has to do with drafts. Cliches are fine in the first and maybe even second drafts, but kill them in later drafts.

      Try not to make yourself crazy. You can’t catch all your own mistakes. Even copyeditors need and use copyeditors.

      • Thanks for sharing this wisdom. I am guilty of trying to read for everything all at once. (I’m like that with everything.) Then I go back through again, and again. It might actually calm me down a bit to say ok, this read through is for -ing words. Period.

  3. I am guilt because I read what I have written once then give the pice of writing to some one to proof read.

    The results are full of mistakes!

    This article has given me the tips . Thanks for sharing.

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