You Can Learn to Self-Edit: Right and Tight

Writers are often advised to find a critique group, editor, mentor or partner. I agree but it’s also good to learn as much self-editing as possible. This is as true at the sentence/paragraph level as it is at the “big picture” level. With practice comes skill, but at first you may want to keep a list of the most common syntax, grammar and other writing mistakes. Post this list where you can see it. Refer to it often. Your prose will thank you.
Writing Tip for Today: A basic list of dos and don’ts helps a writer smooth and polish a rough draft.

  • Chop “ly” words. Adverbs are rarely necessary if you use a strong, specific verb.
  • Circle all “To be” verbs (is, are, was, were) and look for those pesky “ings” next to them. Strengthen your writing by ditching the “to be” verb and substitute with an active, specific verb.
  • Keep modifiers sensory and specific (concrete sensory detail or CSD). Avoid vague nouns and modifiers.
  • Avoid convoluted prepositional phrases. (prepositions: to, as, from, upon, below, behind, through, around.) Readers only imagine one action at a time.
  • Use short clipped sentences to convey tension or high action.
  • Use longer sentences to create the illusion of relaxed pace.
  • Intersperse dialogue with action, emotion and body language (Rule of Three).
  • Resist the Urge to Explain (R.U.E.).
  • Show, don’t Tell.

Remember, you are going to self-edit at a separate time than you create. You are NOT going to begin each drafting session by rewriting the first sentence umpteen times. Revision often takes many tries. Draft in a white-hot heat, rewrite as many times as it takes to get it right and tight.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

2 comments on “You Can Learn to Self-Edit: Right and Tight

  1. I’m in the process of self-editing my Nano. Good reminders!

    It was so good to see you Saturday at OCW. I heard great things about your anthology class from Christina as well as my granddaughter!

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