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5 hard-won editing tips

Editing your writing can be a hard process. At least, it is for me. Here are five tips that I think might help your editing and have certainly helped mine.

1. Identify your overused words

My overused words include “was” and “has”. By using my wordprocessors find function with highlight all, I get a visual map of where I need to thin down such words.

Here are some other commonly overused words

  • Very: Often used as an intensifier “very” is a weak word choice. Try for a more intense word to begin with. Instead of “very sad” you could try “despondent”; instead of “very cold” you might like “freezing”.
  • That: A word that can be necessary for clarity in some cases, “that” is easy to overuse. Often you can remove this word without losing any meaning.
  • Just: This word is often used as a filler word and can weaken a sentence. Consider removing it or finding a more precise alternative.
  • Really: Another word like “very,” this is a weak intensifier. Again, use a more precise and intense word to start with.
  • Suddenly: Rather than surprise the reader with something happening suddenly, you tip your hand. Instead, skip right to the surprise.
  • Just then: This phrase is much like “suddenly” – extra words that do not add extra meaning and tip your hand to the reader reducing the impact.

2. Flag wordy sentences

I find myself falling into old bad writing habits sometimes. Habits such as run-on sentences, paragraphs of text so complex they only get a full stop at the end of the block of text, and sentences trying to do way too much in one go. I also tend towards gluts of passive voice sentences.

My solution to this is to drop an entire chapter in the Hemmingway App. A free tool that will highlight text that Enist Hemmingway probably would object to.

The app flags up sentences that need my attention. Although I sometimes disagree, most of the time, working on those parts makes the writing better.

3. Don’t fall in love with your own writing

I find it helps to get some time and distance from the first draft. When I go back I can see passages where I thought I was being so clever and extra but really I was getting in my own way.

The truth is that no matter how much I may love a passage I have written, if it does not serve the story it must go.

With time offering some perspective on my own writing, I can see which “clever passages” I should just outright remove. It turns out I was not being clever, I was being a smart-arse and not a particularly good one.

Trimming unnecessary verbiage can be painful. That’s the path to better writing.

4. Read it aloud

Reading text aloud is beneficial for editing as it helps catch errors, improve flow, identify awkward phrasing, and allows for better understanding of the overall tone and rhythm of the writing.

I do not do this as often as I should. This is a shame because reading aloud catches many problems much sooner.

In this case, do as I say rather than my bad habit of as I do.

5. Get Feedback

This was one of the first things I learned about editing. Feedback from test readers and fellow writers can help flag parts of your text that need further work.

I have found that when others say there is a problem with the text (no matter how much I wish to disagree) they are almost certainly correct. When they tell me how to fix it they are always wrong.

I try to do as much editing as possible before I get this feedback so the feedback only covers issues I have missed.

This is something we specialise in on our writer’s nights. Reading and highlighting text that wants attention. I have seen many writers grow from giving and receiving such help.

The TL;DR here is to get others to critique your work. Then note what they say to work on and work on that.

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