Friday, April 07, 2006

All About Editing

When I've read through my posts on this blog, I've noticed that 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. Notice how I'm talking like a seasoned blogger and I've only been blogging on a daily basis for a week.

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 I've ever been to was, one on editing given by John Jenkins, who is 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 adverbs and adjectives. I found the easiest thing to do 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 strolled toward me' would be 'she sauntered toward me', or 'meandered toward me'. By controlling adverb/verb combinations, I found I could set the tone and communicate emotion better.

Next, he 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.

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, use the 'Find and Replace' application in Microsoft Word. See if any need to be added back in. You'll be surprised how few do. I know I was. Replace only those that are essential.

I hope his advice is as useful to you as it is 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.

1 comment:

Lisa Booth said...

Editing to me lately is a confusion! I had my editor tell me what she wanted in a recent review and to me i thought i covered everything and more with my own little ways of wording.. i read my article a week later only to find that the whole article had been chopped and mutilated to not one item she had asked for? so.. going to editing well.. i did try!