Editing your work

I really do like to write. Sometimes, however, there are times when I write too much. I’m so anxious to put down every word that comes into my head that I don’t immediately realize I have included words that don’t really have to be there.

Take a look at that last sentence: “that don’t really have to be there.” The word “really” is unnecessary, but it just felt natural. I did it again. “…it just felt natural.” The word “just” is a throwaway.

One of my favorite words that gets inserted into my text is “actually.” Such as, “Actually, he did like to eat ice cream.” Totally not necessary, but I do it all the time.

I didn’t realize this quirk of mine until recently when I was proof reading one of my manuscripts. If you use Word’s review of a document to check spelling and grammar, it will tag certain phrases and suggest replacing them with one or two words. Remember, they are suggestions, but don’t use four words if one will do the job effectively.

Self-editing can be difficult. I know we have all gotten inspired and motivated to sit at the computer with flying fingers. That’s great, but typing the last period on a document, does not finish it.

I learned a great lesson on editing from a sale that I made to Woman’s Day magazine years ago. It was a short essay about learning to have fun with your children and to go down to their level now and then. The editors liked the idea, but the writing left much to be desired. In my defense, I was a fledgling writer, self-taught, and still learning.

Example of what I wrote: My two young daughters and my niece stood with me in the kitchen and watched the pounding rain. The three girls were obviously distressed.
Woman’s Day: They eliminated the last sentence. Wasn’t needed.
I wrote: So many times, I have believed….
Woman’s Day: Often I have believed.
I wrote: …they had never before had reason to come together in a group for the sake of play.
Woman’s Day: …they had never played in such a group.

It was embarrassing to see how much a good editor could do and maintain what I wanted to say. I was shocked to see that the final edit reduced the article by at least one-third. I used this essay when I taught classes in marketing freelance writing as an example of how we can get carried away with words, and why we don’t always need so many.

When I sold this piece, to say it was exciting is an understatement. I was thrilled to have a byline in a national publication, and the pay wasn’t bad either.

I’d like to add that a writer shouldn’t feel that she must always take the advice of an editor and change a specific word or phrase. Do keep an open mind and listen to the professionals, but if your words express what you want to say in exactly the way you want to say it, protect them. We each have a style of writing, a voice, that is our own. Never abandon that to fit into a mold of someone else’s making.

Happy writing. Happy editing. I wish you success.

And if you find too many unnecessary words in this post, I don’t want to know about it.

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Just keep writing

Happy New Year! Here we go again. I hope this will be a healthy and happy year for everyone.

We are a few days past the celebrations when the world welcomed in 2018, but that’s just long enough to have finalized those resolutions, or already have given up on them. The problem with resolutions is that we often don’t think them through. They are not always realistic.

For example, in 2017 I was determined that I would finish my newest novel by year’s end. I forgot to consider all the days during the year that I might not be able to write. Such as: the week-long trip to visit distant family; the days I was too sick to get out of bed, let alone write; the special celebrations with family and friends; the days I helped a friend or relative who needed me; all the days when reality intruded. You get the picture. You’ve been there.

What I wanted to do was to sit down at my computer every morning at 8 a.m. and crank out about 1,000 words of perfect prose in a plot that would have the Pultizer people banging on my door. HA! What a dreamer I am. Some days I did reach that numerical target; on other days I only managed 200, but they were darn good words, and quality will always beat out quantity when it comes to writing.

I’ve changed my goals for this year. I still intend to write on a regular basis. Maybe not daily, but the best that I can in the time allotted to me. I will still set objectives and personal deadlines, but this year I will forgive myself if I don’t meet them.

Happy New Year and happy writing.

Make Every Word Count

Ever have a day when, as a writer, you just don’t feel like writing? Well of course you have. What a silly question!

Every writer has those days. Sometimes that old friend, Writer’s Block, comes to visit and there’s no way to get rid of him (or her, if I must be politically correct.) And when we do get rid of him/her, him/her always seems to find his/her way back again at another time, and we must deal with the pest time and again.

I mentioned before that one way to get around writer’s block is to change direction in whatever you are working on, or work on something totally different or new or fun or crazy. Our brains need a little vacation now and then just like our bodies.

Besides dealing with the blank page and not knowing what to write, there are times when the process seems terribly slow. We write a sentence and it’s not right. We delete it. We write again. Still not right. And that can go on for a long time.

Sometimes we get involved in editing what we’ve written previously, and that can take up quite a bit of time, but that’s okay. That’s writing. It’s polishing and perfecting, and that’s something that we all need to do.

Then there are those writers who say they have to write x number of words per day or they don’t feel as if they have accomplished anything. I tried that once. I set a number that I thought seemed realistic. Sometimes I hit my target. Sometimes I missed big time, and when that happened I felt bad, as if I had failed in some way. It didn’t work for me, so I changed my standard.

I have had days when I sat down to work on my latest novel and I couldn’t crank out more than a few sentences, either because I was not motivated or I was tired or didn’t feel good, whatever. But I did get those few sentences down on paper and that did move the story along, albeit not very far.

It seems to me that it is far more important to make whatever you write the best you can do on that particular day. Be satisfied with your work, whether it’s ten words or 1,000. Ten great words can be so much more valuable that just trying to hit a target number.

One of the best books I’ve ever read on writing is “Make Every Word Count” by Gary Provost. It’s still in print and I highly recommend it. In fact, I think I’m going to read it again. It can only help.