11 editing tips

Early drafts are notorious for repetition, indirection and overdevelopment of the trivial.
~Pamela Erens in The Joy of Trimming

Now that you’re done free-writing your first draft, you’re ready for more writing – yes, revising is writing.

  • Does the first sentence grab your reader?
    Beginning with action or a compelling piece of dialog is a good way to achieve this.
  • Is the ending strong and alive?
    It’s best to leave them guessing versus wrap it up too tidily.
  • Does every sentence move the story forward?
  • Can you create a twist that surprises your reader?
    This is a hallmark trait of flash stories and can often be achieved by withholding a detail until the right moment or relating the sequence of events in a way that walks your reader right into the surprise.
  • Which words can be eliminated?
    Watch for redundancy, delete nonessential words, and get rid of annoyances like ‘really’, ‘very’, ‘stuff’, ‘just’, etc.
  • Which words need to be strengthened?
    Use distinct, descriptive nouns & verbs, such as meandered versus walked, alder versus tree, etc.  Replace adverbs (-ly words) and prepositional phrases (on, by, in, at, around, with …) with more impactful words.
  • Look for unintentionally repeated and overused words.
    Use a thesaurus to find suitable synonyms.  If you are not aware of your word tics, begin to take notice and search them out in your first drafts.
    In contrast, stylistic repetition can be a great storytelling tool.
  • Abolish clichés.
    Ironically, clichés say exactly what you want, but they are so overused that they need to be rewritten uniquely.
    Ava Jae’s post explains this well and will help you rewrite them.
  • Read the story aloud listening for awkward phrasing, run on sentences, poor rhythm, etc.
    This step often spurs structure improvements and simplification.
  • Did you remember to check spelling and grammar?
    Don’t skip this step in any draft, especially if you think you have arrived at your final draft.
  • If using a computer and you haven’t yet, print the story on paper, reread, and mark-up by hand.
    Every change of format uses a different part of your brain and helps you see the story differently.
  • Set the story aside for at least two days (and two weeks is even better) then repeat the steps again.
    You’ll be amazed at how many new issues you find the next time you visit your story.

If you’re hungry for more, this excellent post by Michelle Seaton on line editing is good enough to be dessert.

Is there another editing step you find particularly helpful?  Please share with us.

See more flash writing tips.

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Categories: flash basics, reference tools, writing exercises, writing tips

19 Comments on “11 editing tips”

  1. galenpearl
    July 7, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    I would add “clearly” to your list of words to avoid. Also, sentences that begin with “It…” often can be edited to eliminate unnecessary words. As in, “It is clearly very important to eliminate unnecessary stuff and other things from your sentences.”

    On another point, could you give an example of replacing adverbs with words that have more impact?

    Thanks, Galen http://10stepstofindingyourhappyplace.blogspot.com/

    • July 7, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      Thanks Galen, that’s a great addition to the list and it also made me think of another pet peeve, ‘in order to’, so I added both.

      A couple of examples of replacing adverbs with stronger verbs:
      – Instead of “we walked slowly around the lake”, how about “we meandered around the lake”? Or ambled, rambled, strolled, or even gallavanted. :)
      – and instead of “very carefully followed”, I would replace with tracked, monitored, or stalked.
      Hope that’s helpful.

      Thanks for your comments!

  2. galenpearl
    October 3, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    Regarding the elimination of extra words–I used to give my students some writing examples and see who could say the same thing in the fewest words. It was a fun contest and got the point across.

    • October 3, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

      What a great idea, very effective! Thanks Galen.

  3. January 5, 2014 at 4:45 am #

    After having just completed my 8800-word memoir … I knew I wasn’t done yet. Thanks for the article on “11 editing tips.”

    • January 6, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

      Oh my goodness, congratulations Mary, that’s quite an accomplishment. Now starts the second phase of writing – and the most fun, in my opinion.
      Thanks for stopping by and for taking time to comment!

    • January 10, 2014 at 4:28 am #

      Chris, I’m finding it the most challenging! LOL But I’ve come too far to give up now :)

    • January 10, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

      For sure! The essential for me is to let the whole thing sit for as long as I can without looking at it so I can come to it with a fresh revising eye – the longer I haven’t seen it, the better my revisions.


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