by Kris Maze
How does one become a superstar editor? Or even just a better self-editor? Take a class? Get a coach? Getting an editor job takes years of study and experience, but if your goal is to strengthen your manuscript and to gain satisfaction from growing in your craft, there's a resource that may be a good starting point.
When I researched “empowering your inner editor”, the internet protested that this secret superpower (editing) was taboo. Pages of Google Search Titles portrayed the Inner Editor as badly as an addiction to a smarmy ex-boyfriend:
- How to Silence…
- Why You Need to Restrain…
- 9 Tips to Defeat...
- How to Shut Up Your…
- How to Turn Off...
- Four Ways to Control your…
Whoa, now. I have to disagree. The inner editor serves a vital purpose after the first draft, taking one’s writing from fluffy to fog-free. But it doesn't happen without practice and guidance.
When I finished my first novel THE TALENT, I was overwhelmed by the steep journey of editing. I hired a professional editor but didn’t want them to waste their time working on errors I should be able to fix myself.
As I navigated the how-to of trimming the wordiness from my writing, a friend suggested Don McNair’s 21 Steps to Editor-Proof Your Writing. Packed with examples and exercises, this book takes a writer from understanding to implementing with precise editing strategies in three parts:
- Part 1: Putting Words In examines the developmental part of editing.
- Part 2: Taking Words Out moves into specifics of what makes an editor cringe.
- Part 3: Sharing Your Words advises how to utilize critique partners, work with professional editors and find publishers and/or agents through querying.
Here is a raw scene from a short story in progress, which I'll use to show the before and after of McNair's lessons.
She played the bow across the string with a final dissolving note, while the dinner chatter rose. A man rattled ice in his cocktail glass, at a nearby pub table. “It was a fine performance, but not exquisite.” he commented to a woman checking her phone.
“Let’s call that a set.” her pianist declared, raising from the piano bench and disappearing to the bar as she slowly bobbed her head.
She wandered from the room to the adjoining study with towering windows flanked by thick curtains to keep out the winter chill. The glass was visible and framed the star-dotted sky.
One paned glass door was open a crack, a bucket with half extinguished cigarette butts on the concrete enclosed patio. The chilled air bit into her bare arms and she pulled the sparkling gown training behind her up and around her feet. She welcomed the cold and invited them to snap her to her senses. Her performance was weak and she knew it.
McNair offers lengthy lists of sample words and phrases to search out to cut the fluffy parts from your writing. He provides brief exercises with answer keys to ensure you understand how to make your writing clearer. The process of going through his book trains your writing brain to find the sticky parts common in first drafts (along with tools to fix them).
5 Steps to Self-Editing Stardom
- Fix your verbs! Seriously, almost half of his list is dedicated to this powerful grammar motor. Make the verb tense concise and select the most accurate words to carry your story.
- Eliminate and Avoid Dead and Redundant Phrases. See what I did there? Don’t do that. Get rid of the fog by picking just the important details. Only add visual elements that further your story. Get rid of the fluffy words.
- Deconstruct and Realign. Could you regroup your description to streamline the reader’s experience? Could the order of the actions change to make the words flow better? Pulling apart the scene can help a writer reorder the details in powerful ways.
- Prepositional Phrases – Keep an eye out for these sneaky extras – phrases like “on top of” or “down below” are easy to cut out and replace with stronger expressions.
- Dialogue – Do you need it? How much? Simplify to only what pushes the story onward. Let actions evoke the mood and set the scene. Less is more.
Draft #2 - in progress
Those edits paved the way for scene setting, improved sensory details and smoother dialogue.
She tugged the violin bow through a dissolving finale while dinner chatter rose. A man rattled ice in his cocktail glass, “A fine performance, but not exquisite,” he said to a woman checking her phone. Evalyn set the bow in its case, feeling a flush form on her cheeks.
She couldn’t afford another mediocre review.
“Let’s call that a set, “her pianist said. He bolted from the bench to the bar before she could bob her head in agreement.
Evalyn wandered to the balcony entrance where brocade curtains insulated tall windows and framed the star-dotted sky. A planter full of half-extinguished cigarette butts smoldered as she exited through the glass-paned door.
Her steps echoed across the concrete as her sequined gown flowed behind, cascading like a crystalline waterfall and exposing her well-scuffed heels. Goosebumps formed on her legs as she invited the cold to bite at her bare arms. Her breath formed clouds in the crisp air.
She wished for the cold to wake her muse and make it heed her summons.
Self-editing can be a satisfying part of the writing process but I hear mixed reviews from writers. It's a joy to some and a tedious chore to others. I recommend Don McNair’s book for anyone who needs clear direction to navigate the foggy parts of writing. His thorough process was the perfect guide to a stronger manuscript worth submitting.
What favorite resource made a difference to your newbie writer self? Please share the editing resource that helped you refine your writing in the comments below.
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Kris Maze has worked in education for 25 years and writes for various publications including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and Writers in the Storm. Her first YA Science fiction book, IMPACT, arrives in June 2020 and is published through Aurelia Leo.
A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors with her fur babies and family. She also ponders the wisdom of Bob Ross.
Trapped underground with a mysterious scientist named Edison and his chess master AI, can Nala Nightingale find the will to live and to love in a dystopian future?
To find out more about IMPACT, click here.