To be a great writer is to be a great editor. It takes a critical eye to see areas of improvement and take initiative to fix those problems. While second-party editors are essential in polishing pieces to their maximum potential, it is a writer’s responsibility to present a finished draft. Few publishers are going to do the hard editing work that they expect you to do.
Reviewing your work includes differentiating your “two”s, “there”s, and “where”s. However, fixing a piece’s grammar is the easy part; rearranging ideas and consolidating paragraphs is harder.
Here are five helpful tips for editing your work beyond the spelling and punctuation:
1. Clean Away the Clutter
Treat your writing piece the same way you would for a relative’s garage. Everything inside is endearing and sentimental to the owner but not necessarily welcoming for the visitor. It’s important that, while there may be a story to every sentence, a stranger has room to find her way around. Throw out everything that isn’t needed.
For example, you might have a great blog post on a kayaking adventure. But are those paragraphs about the hotel rooms necessary to the piece’s narrative? If so, be brief. And if not, delete it. Too many details distract your reader from the progression of ideas. A confused reader is a lost one.
In the same way, avoid redundant adjectives. You don’t need to tell us that the sun is yellow when we know the sun to be yellow. You don’t have to tell us the water was both cold and freezing. Pick either ‘cold’ or ‘freezing.’ Thesaurus.com is your friend in a jam, but don’t use it to bedazzle a sentence that’s communicative in its simplicity.
2. Be Intentional With Length
Similarly, be conscientious with your length. French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote, “I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” So often we underestimate the value and necessity of conciseness. Our elementary school days have left us misbelieving length to be correlated with sophistication. Quantity does not ensure quality.
For this reason, be succinct with your phrases and vocabulary unless you are highlighting certain diction. It’s unnecessary to use ‘automobile’ when ‘car’ will work just fine. “Place of occupation” is superfluous when “office” will suffice. Use big words when they are better, not because you believe them to be better.
3. Avoid Clichés
Great writing is fresh writing. Unfortunately, nothing kills originality as efficiently as a well-known cliché. A cliché’s usage can at first feel convenient for a text’s understanding, but its generalization only ensures a shallow read.
Write down what you mean, not what everyone else has already told you. Instead of saying, “I haven’t seen him in ages,” say, “I haven’t seen him since he dropped off my things last Christmas.” Instead of saying, “he was all talk and no game,” say, “my brother always said he’d beat me in chess, but whenever I pulled the board out onto the living room floor, he became disinterested.”
There’s power when you say what you mean.
4. Know Your Punctuation Voice
There is a lot to consider when establishing your writer’s voice, and knowing your punctuation is one of those things. Each mechanism has an interpretation, so beware of your intentions before you play with your keyboard too much.
Exclamation marks typically read like the writer is yelling rather than emphasizing. Capital letters naturally do the same. Excessive question marks, even for rhetorical questions, create a restless narrative and a potentially juvenile one. Ellipses should be used in special circumstances. Value the goodness of a comma and the traditionalism of a period. Let these tools support your words rather than dominate them. Punctuation should be a turn signal, not a driving wheel of the vehicle.
Human beings are visual readers, and pictureless reads are no exception. Everything from paragraph length to dialogue flow affects the way readers visually process a text. For this very reason, make sure your paragraphs are shorter rather than longer. Any text that dominates a page’s blank space will overwhelm a reader to ocular exhaustion.
Consider the value of a subhead or the simplicity of separating chapter sections with an asterisk. There is much to learn from your favorite writers in terms of both wordplay and page play. Don’t just study the authors’ writing crafts; take a look at their formatting skills, too.
Once you’ve taken time to truly revise your piece, feel free to pull that red pen out and scissor-up your grammar. Your editor and publisher will be grateful you have.
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