Reading through the posts on this blog, I’ve noticed I often make silly mistakes, miss out words or have extra letters in words that should not be there because I’ve hit the wrong keys whilst typing. It has highlighted to me how important editing is.
With a blog it is easy, as you can go back and correct the posts. But you can’t correct the automatically shared posts to Twitter and Facebook, which is just embarrassing. Notice how I’m talking like a seasoned blogger and I’ve only been blogging on a daily basis for a few weeks.
Good editing means making wise choices. What words should you use? What order do you put them in? There is never a single correct answer. The best sentences are sturdy and straightforward. The reader can understand them easily, without having to reread them. Sentences become difficult to read for two main reasons: the sentences are too long, or the sentences are poorly constructed.
One of the most informative talks on editing I’ve ever been to was given by John Jenkins, who was the editor of Writers’ Forum. There were three main rules to editing that he pointed out.
The first thing he suggested, is to take out all the adjectives. I found the easiest thing to achieve this was to use the ‘Find and Replace’ application in the Edit menu of Microsoft Word and search for all the -ly words and delete them. More often than not, they were not needed and if I desperately wanted to keep one I could, because I’d whittled them down to only a few.
By combining the verb and adverb into one more descriptive verb, I not only cut the word count but was being more precise. For example, if a person was walking slowly, they could be described as sauntering, meandering, or strolling. So, ‘she walked slowly toward me’ would become, ‘she sauntered toward me’, or ‘meandered toward me’. Controlling adverb/verb combinations, allows me to set the tone and communicate the emotion of a scene.
Lots of adverbs and adjectives slow the pace and jar the reader out of the action. What I did, was look at some of the children’s books I admire and enjoyed reading and found that adverbs and adjectives were used very sparsely and also got an idea of the type of strong verbs used to replace them.
Next, John Jenkins said be active not passive. If you find yourself using forms of ‘be’ such as: are, is, was, becomes, became, you are using the passive tense. I find this the most difficult but, it is important especially when writing articles. I’ve used ‘become’ in a paragraph above, but I think it needs to be there.
The third rule was to remove all waste words. This included: them, that, began, started, about, all, along, and, away, before, after, down, up, out, in, even, ever, just, little, now, only, over, really, so, some, sort, such, felt, feel, back, returned, instead, to the, to be, there, was, suddenly and very. Again, I use the ‘Find and Replace’ application in Microsoft Word. Then I check to see if any of these words need to be added back in. You’ll be surprised how few do. I replace only the ones that are essential.
I hope this advice is as useful to you as it has been to me. But, remember before you start editing, put the manuscript away and do something else. This will allow you to look at it with fresh eyes and see the mistakes more easily.