Ten Tips for Editing Your Writing

As I may have mentioned before, I’m involved with an activity group for ‘seniors’ in Stratford these days, called Sunny Side Up – I take the Creative Writing Group – and a couple of weeks ago we looked at ‘editing your work.’

It’s something that new writers don’t realise (I’m sure I was the same!) but those first words you jot down on a piece of paper are only the start, the first draft of something hopefully much better. First drafts are supposed to be a bit rubbish, maybe even embarrassing and, as someone famous once said (Hemingway?): ‘all writing is rewriting’.

So here are the tips I passed on for editing. Please let me know what works for you!

1. Put your work away in a drawer for as long as possible!

2. Read the whole piece (ALOUD is best) and ask yourself:

(i) Have I started in the right place?
(ii) Is there a ‘hook’ for the reader?
(iii) Can I chop off the first sentence or two, for a snappier start? (Often we ‘write ourselves in’ to a piece or put in an introduction when it’s not necessary).

3. Is the middle ‘saggy’? Is the meaning clear to the reader? Have you repeated yourself (with actual words or ideas?).

4. Check point-of-view. Have you ‘head hopped’ unintentionally?

5. Check the tense you’ve used. Does it change, inexplicably half way through?

6. Is the ending satisfying or does the piece just peter out? Could you end the piece sooner? Is there too much anti-climax?

7. If you’re writing fiction, are all the characters necessary? Check that their names are not too similar (very confusing for the reader!).

8. Do you need to ‘kill’ any ‘darlings’?

9. Next, ‘copy editing’ Is the writing the best it can be? No overuse of adjectives or adverbs, is the dialogue sparkling, have you avoided clichés?

10. Finally, proof-reading. Check spelling, grammar and punctuation. (and if there’s time, put it in a drawer again for a few more days…)

When to stop? When you’re happy with the piece and feel that you’ve got it to where it needs to be. Remember, perfection isn’t achievable! Just try to write the best piece of writing you can, at this time.

NEWSFLASH: The first one has sold out but there’s still room on the workshop I’m running at Evesham Festival of Words on Sunday 9th July 2.30 – 4.30 (‘Writing Short Stories for Women’s Magazines). To register please email info@eveshamfestivalofwords.org

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4 Responses to Ten Tips for Editing Your Writing

  1. Wendy Clarke says:

    Excellent advice as always, Helen. Lucky writers who live near enough to go to one of your courses x

  2. juliathorley says:

    There’s some excellent advice here, Helen. I would also add in make use of the spell/grammar check function on your computer. It’s by no means infallible, but it will pick up things you might not spot yourself – e.g. double words (he went to the the shop), which/that mistakes, and other things that might just make you think, ‘Am I right here or does the computer have a point?’

    • Good point, Julia and one that I missed off! You’re right, running the ‘spellchecker’ thing – which also does grammar, is useful and it only takes a press of a button, so why wouldn’t you do it? It’s also useful to use the ‘search’ button if you want to check how many adverbs you’ve crammed in (search for ‘ly’ as they usually end in ‘ly’) or if you’ve used too many of your favourite words (mine are ‘just’ and ‘really’).

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