Tips for Self-editing Your Work for Submissions: Part 2, Ten Suggestions

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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Jamie Dedes:

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Tips for Self-editing Your Work for Submission: Part 1, Why You Should and Must

Photograph courtesy of Andrew Neel, Unsplash.

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), American poet, writer, critic and satirist



When I started as a young writer, I was shocked to see my work edited if accepted and sometimes dramatically so. There were a few occasions when I didn’t even recognize it as my own.  I eventually got it. If I wanted to be sure my work was published the way I meant it to be, that it said what I meant it to say, the trick was to fine-tune content and flow, proofread and copy edit. I learned to let work gestate (a day or a week or more depending on length) and to repeat the editing process more than once. These habits were a boon to me when I was a columnist. It kept the editor from shooting work back to me saying “fix it,” which then allowed me to get on with something else.

As my own responsibilities grew to include editing, I began to see such efforts as the difference between a dabbler and a professional and a courtesy to the editors who often have an overwhelming amount of material to review.  Remember that most editorial offices are not well staffed and editors not well paid. Lit journals may be edited by volunteers who still need to clear enough time for their own lives and to produce enough of their own writing to make a living. These efforts are labors of love: a love of literature and a love of other writers and artists.

There’s always room for improvement. At seventy, I still work on refinements to my own writing, research, and editing skills and my management of various projects and commitments. For me this has become more cumbersome as I also juggle the progression of several catastrophic illness that result in severe fatigue. Here again though, success may be just a matter of continued refinements: workable routines and policies. Among the later, I am no longer as sanguine about work that is not submitted properly or professionally.

Tomorrow in Part ll: Ten-tips for self-editing



“Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing.  There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.” Hemingway as quoted by Arnold Samuelson, With Hemingway: a Year in Key West and Cuba (Random House, 1984), Page 11



Jamie Dedes:

Your donation HERE helps to fund the ongoing mission of The Poet by Day in support of poets and writers, freedom of artistic expression, and human rights.

Poetry rocks the world!



FEEL THE BERN

For Peace, Sustainability, Social Justice

Maintain the movement.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton