Want to EDIT like a professional? 7 Easy Steps

Editing is part of every writer’s job.

Finding the time, and more importantly, making that time count is how the PROfessionals edit.

Read on for the 7 editing tricks to enhance your writing.

1) Find your editing groove.
  • For some this is EARLY when eyes are the sharpest and focus is the clearest. For others their peak time might be mid-to-late afternoon. Caffeine kicks in, morning rush dies down and – again, this is about focus – the brain settles into a rhythm.
  • I caution against late night editing. Eyes are slower from all the image bombardment of the day.

Eagle eyes are needed for effective editing.

  • If, however, evening is the ONLY quiet time – then read the sentences aloud. That’s the best way to catch what’s actually on the page. If a section of your writing has received heavy rewrites, consider reading the sentences in reverse order. Start at the bottom of the page then read one sentence at a time until you reach the top of the page. You force your eyes to read the words on page, instead of what you ‘think’ is on the page.
  • WINE, or your alcoholic evening beverage of choice, is fine for relaxing, but not for editing. Your dialogue is snappy; your descriptions will be vivid; and your writing brilliant. Unfortunately, the diamonds often turn to dust when you read the next morning.
2) Highlight sticking points.
  • Does one particular sentence seem muddy? Dialogue exchange stilted? Blocking in the scene missing? Think about it. Mull it over. But NOT TOO LONG. Don’t get dragged into the writing whirlpool and expect to rescue every drowning sentence. Highlight the sticking points and then MOVE on.
  • The solution to the original hiccup may reveal itself a page later . . . two pages later . . . when you’re on the treadmill, when you’re in the shower. (That’s a biggy for me. My dialogue will often clarify when I walk away from the page.)
Virtual highlighters are a writer’s best friend.
3) Great editing is about condensing.
  • A) Don’t be afraid to rip out meandering dialogue. Think about that friend (or relative) who never tells a short story. Get to the point.
  • B) Scene setting is necessary; world-building may be a must for your genre. But readers will skip loooooong descriptive passages. Focus on the specific elements that make a particular description important then highlight those aspects.
  • C) Adverbs are NOT a writer’s friend. Use with caution.
  • C+1) An addendum to adverbs – ‘it’s almost impossible to remove all adverbs from the page’ will be stronger as ‘it’s brutal to slash adverb overload from the writing’.

Why do adverbs cheat your readers?

  • ‘She spoke slowly.’ What does this share about the character? Nothing. Is it possible to reflect some personality attribute about your character in a tag line? 1) she stammered through an apology, 2) she stuttered as if pained to offer the rejection, 3) her slow Southern drawl coated each word in butter and syrup, 4) she measured her words with precise care. How much more would your readers know about this character with these tags? Slash an adverb and let your character shine.
Can you name 3 writers that make it impossible for you to put down their book? Why? Great writing – sure. Good plot – absolutely. Superb characters – goes without saying. But I’d place a bet . . . on chapter hooks. How do you hone that skill?
4) Enhance chapter hooks.
  • A) Study the timing your favorite authors employ;
  • B) Study 30-minute TV shows;
  • C) Study YA novella authors.

One of my go-to authors is Gary Paulsen. He started in short serials before moving to YA novels. He wrote for youth at an easily distracted age, yet he kept them turning the pages.

If adverbs should be avoided like the plague, then chapter hooks should be embraced liked antibiotics.

Readers must be motivated to the next page swipe, the end of chapter page turn, the reason to stay up too late, read on their lunch hour, or Audible during a work-out. Strong chapter hooks help ensure that readers keep reading. A successful writing-friend told me that she never blocks a chapter until she’s finished with the initial draft. During her first edit, she finds those sections with the most pay-off or the greatest tension and uses those as her guide for chapter breaks.

Effective chapter hooks leave something dangling so that readers can’t WAIT to turn the page.

5) During editing pay close attention to easy-to-transpose words.
  • A) patient vs. patience;
  • B) complied vs. compiled;
  • C) advise vs. advice;
  • D) analyze vs. analysis;
  • E) ever vs. every.

The list can be endless, and even tedious. If you’re unsure on the correct version, highlight the word and check for synonyms. Still confused? Use Dictionary.com or your favorite online word source. I work with double monitors to keep support sources easily accessible.

6) Step SIX to editing like a PRO is an extension of step five.

Be aware of your go-to words. One of my writing redundancies is ‘back’. Step back. Go back. He moved back. Her back. His back. Back off. Back away. Am I backing myself into a corner? Find a word cloud program, even a Plain Jane version in your document program of choice, then analyze a scene or chapter. If you are guilty of lazy repetition, it will leap off the page.

7) BONUS – Step SEVEN to editing like a PRO is all about emotion.

Do you laugh – unexpectedly – like a first-time reader during editing? I do mean, laugh in the right places?

Are there character interactions on page that evoke emotion? A tear? A catch around your heart? A shudder of fear? A OMG moment of surprise? Is there an ahh moment?

A few weeks ago, I watched Sex & The City (movie I). No judgement, please. I wanted entertainment in the form of snappy dialogue.

I find when writing, or editing, that if I’m after a certain mood or even a specific learned skill that if I enmesh myself in something – book, film, TV series – that strongly reflects the mood or skill, I do a better job when tackling my own words. May not work for all, but it puts me in the right zone.

While I was after dialogue with a punch, I’d forgotten there were several emotional scenes.

What captured my attention: after the Big/Carrie wedding that doesn’t happen, Carrie’s three long-time friends head off to soften the blow of the all-inclusive honeymoon. Carrie, a woman abandoned at the altar, turns to the cocoon of sleep for escape. Her friends are gentle, tender with their care for her, but Samantha breaks through one morning to insist . . . cajole Carrie into eating ‘a little something’. Samantha spoon feeds her friend, caring for her, encouraging her through this darkest hour of grief. No judgement, no oversolicitous concern – simply one friend comforting another.

Whether you enjoy the movie or think it’s wasted air space, the moment is poignant. More importantly, few females can’t identify with being either Carrie or Samantha. Sometimes, the woman is the care-giving character. Sometimes, the woman is the broken, devastated, need-a-friend-right-now character. The film highlights the bonding between two woman to give viewers an ahh moment.

Whether ahh or OMG, impact moments are what writers seek to capture on page. As you edit your words, look for those scenes designed to evoke emotions. It’s your job as a writer, and an effective editor, to reward your readers for their time by providing the pay-off.
Editing like a PROfessional is a learned skill.
Good writing is hard work. As an editor, your job is to separate the diamonds from the duds.
Add these 7 editing tips to your writer’s arsenal and you will deliver more concise and enjoyable words to page.
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