Photograph courtesy of Andrew Neel, Unsplash.

“Only God gets it right the first time and only a slob says, ‘Oh well, let it go, that’s what copyeditors are for.'” Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft [Recommended]



After your first draft: 

  1. REST and then CUT: Figure out what works best for you when it comes to editing: computer screen or hard copy. Find a quiet time and space to revise content and flow. Make sure your thesis is clear. Cut everything irrelevant to your thesis. Sometimes the points or words you think are clever are the ones that should be cut. Be ruthless.

    “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”  Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

  2. ATTEND TO THE EASILY RECOGNIZED PROBLEMS: Cut redundancies. Cut the unnecessaries: rule of thumb (“rule” will suffice); “in order to” is never needed; walk or hike or run or cook – don’t “start to.”  Don’t  write “thing”, write what the thing is. Please don’t say “I’d like to write about … ” or “I’d like to say . . . ,” just do it. Cut adverbs like “very” and “really” for shorter, clearer and stronger sentences. Stephen King reminds us adverbs are death. Make sure your nouns and verbs are in agreement. Be strategic in your use of capitalizing and bolding. Too much scattered chaotically through a narrative is distracting and visually unappealing. It can also make reading difficult for readers with vision problems.
  3. WATCH OUT FOR PASSIVE VOICE: Use active not passive voice. This is a practice that makes for  more energetic prose. [Job search hint: Be sure to write your resumes and cover letters in active voice.]
  4. SHORTEN LONG SENTENCES: Long sentences are untidy and often include words that are little more than filler, that confuse rather than clarify. At other times, long sentences would benefit from a break-down into two.
  5. HYPHENATE WHENEVER YOU MODIFY A NOUN WITH MORE THAN ONE WORD: The exceptions are words ending in “ly,” The “newly published writer,” for example, would not need  hyphens.
  6. GO EASY ON THE COMMAS: Ask yourself if you need them. Read the line out loud and watch your breath for hints. It’s all about clarity (first) and cadence (second). It may take a little work and thought to use commas correctly. Reminder: “that” doesn’t take a comma before it but “which” does.
  7. WATCH YOUR USE OF “OVER” or “MORE THAN” BEFORE NUMBERS: Example: Over seven percent of readers gave her book one star on Amazon. More than sixty-two percent of readers gave her book five stars on Amazon.
  8. WHEN TO SPELL NUMBERS. WHEN TO USE NUMERALS:  I take my tip on this from my editing prof at U.C. Berkeley Extension: If they’re single or double-digits, spell them. Use numerals if the number is more than two digits.
  9. USE YOUR WORD-PROCESSSING FIND FEATURE: If there’s a word you use repeatedly – for me it’s “currently” – and you know the word is often a redundancy, use the find tool to flesh it out and then evaluate its need. Do the same for “its” versus “it’s,” which I find is a frequent typo for me and others. So often, we’re on auto pilot when we are writing and such typos come easily.
  10. IF ENGLISH IS YOUR SECOND LANGUAGE [ESL]: I can’t speak for other editors, but I try to leave as much alone as possible. I don’t want to mess with your voice and English is spoken differently in different parts of the world. I do respect that.  If edits are necessary, I do just enough for clarity. There are a few basics though, which I know you get in your ESL classes: is a quotation mark; is an apostrophe; use caps to start sentences; use periods to end them.  Be sure there is a space between the end of a sentence and the start of the next. Your first language may not use pronouns (I, you, he, she, this, it). Do remember that English uses pronouns and generally needs them for clarity.

Those of us who are dyslexic have special challenges, which can’t always overcome. I know I have to work hard at it. Recently I posted a poem with “wreaking” versus “wrecking.”  The later would be correct. I struggled for days to get it and finally correct it. HERE I recount my experience with mild dyslexia and my hope that if you too are dyslexic, you don’t let it stop you.

In the end, self-editing is about respect for your own work, for yourself as a writer, and for editors and readers. Be sure to follow submission guidelines. Never use fancy fonts or background colors for your submissions. Plain and simple is the rule.

Disclaimer: Most presses value stylistic consistency. Toward that end some will ask that you use a specific style-guide for work submitted to them. The AP Style Guide is popular. My suggestions here and those required by a style guide may differ. Follow the style guide if that’s the publishers preference.

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