By Shelley Widhalm
I’ve learned to not mention red when I talk about editing.
No, it doesn’t have to do with blood—it has to do with the dreaded red pen used by teachers of the past to mark up student papers with ink.
I’ve adjusted my color wheel and now use blue ink, keeping my red pens hidden in a secret spot—OK, not so secret, since they are in a pencil holder with my other pens in red, black, blue, green and yes—purple!—ink.
If you noticed the topic of my blog, “Top 10 Editing Tips,” you’d see I need some editing work. If I were to follow the title and write properly, I’d edit out everything I’ve just written because I’m OFF TOPIC.
Last week, I mentioned how every writer I meet has their top tips for writing to provide discipline and inspiration. Not many writers go around talking about their top editing tips, because that’s not as fun or sexy. Editing is the hard work of the writing process, because it takes time and precision.
Lucky for me, I’m an editing nerd. I like, no actually LOVE, to fix sentences and paragraphs, looking at grammar, punctuation and mechanics and the entire document for the structure and intended messaging.
Here are a few of my editing rules:
• Editing once isn’t enough—editing takes several reads to catch errors, because not every error can be noticed the first time around.
• Editing is best done by at least two people, bringing more perspectives to the project and additional ways to find or notice the mistakes.
• Editing is best in layers. Do a first read-through for errors in spelling and grammar, words that are missing or misused, and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy. Then ask if there are missing details or areas to be cut that give too much detail or repeat. Edit the overall structure to determine if everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.
And here are seven things to look for while editing:
• Determine if there are boring parts or parts that are over-explained.
• Look for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
• Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say.
• Use the active voice whenever you can.
• Get rid of any inconsistencies in how things are stated and look for any elements that don’t carry through, such as a dropped idea or an incomplete example of the main topic.
• Vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
• Get rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they demonstrate a lack of creativity.
Writing without editing is a rough draft, work that’s incomplete, a thought that has an … after it. It needs that editing step, or a few rounds of making marks, to make it crisp, clear and concise. Each time you edit, you get closer to the core and essential components of what you want to say.