Self-Editing—Ten Suggestions

  1. Read everything you can find about self-editing, but don’t believe everything you read!
  2. Go for it, but only to polish the manuscript before you pay your professional copy editor.
  3. Don’t trust spell check, auto grammar check, or the thesaurus.
  4. Know your characters inside out.
  5. Don’t let adjectives and adverbs do the heavy lifting for weak nouns and verbs.
  6. Cut suddenly, very, thought to himself (who else would he be thinking to?), shrugged her shoulders (what else is shruggable?). All flab.
  7. Dialogue must be sharper, cleaner, smarter than real-life speech. Delete um, well, you know—all those noise-makers we fill our conversations with.
  8. Go from A to D. Today’s readers are savvy enough to infer steps B and C. In other words, we know that to open a door, someone has to go to the door and turn the knob.
  9. Hire a copy editor.
  10. Show yourself that you have what it takes to be an author: keep your mind open to new ideas.

Who needs an editor?

Everyone.

I was tempted to just leave it at the first paragraph. Concise, meaningful, true. But it’s a bit flip and less than helpful. So let me elucidate.

There are two kinds of writers: good ones and not-so-good ones. In each category there are subsets. They have different strengths and shortcomings, but they all have one thing in common: they all need an editor.

And it’s nothing personal or judgmental. Your editor is your first reader (or one of them), a new pair of eyes, disinterested, experienced. She focuses on your writing her ability to see what is good about it and what needs work—how to clear away the extraneous so your meaning comes through.

More soon.

RIP Dear Edwin Newman

The United States has lost a voice of reason, and the English language has lost a friend and defender. Edwin Newman, NBC newsman and standard-bearer of the language, has died at 91. A wonderful article in the New York Times says, in part:

Mr. Newman’s best-known books, both published by Bobbs-Merrill, are Strictly Speaking: Will America Be the Death of English? (1974) and A Civil Tongue (1976). In them, he declared what he called “a protective interest in the English language,” which, he warned, was falling prey increasingly to windiness, witlessness, ungrammaticality, obfuscation and other depredations.

To quote further (since I do not pretend to such eloquence, although I agree with his sentiments):

Among the sins that set Mr. Newman’s teeth articulately on edge were these: all jargon; idiosyncratic spellings like “Amtrak” and a great many others; the non-adverbial use of “hopefully” (a sign in his office read, “Abandon ‘Hopefully’ All Ye Who Enter Here”); “y’know” as a conversational stopgap; a passel of prefixes and suffixes (“de-,” “non-,” “un-,” “-ize,” “-wise” and “-ee”); and using a preposition to end a sentence with.

And I cannot help but believe that he would agree with mine when I add to that lovely list the irritating use of the passive voice in the expression of our feeling of loss:

He will be missed. We will miss him.

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