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.


Jamie Dedes:

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Rejections and the Business of Being a Writer

“I would go home in the evening and write short stories and mail them to magazine editors in New York. The stories, no matter how many times I rewrote them, were always returned, usually without comment, with unfailing promptness. I received so many rejection slips, and such an interesting variety, that I passed them neatly into a stamp collector’s album.  The only consolation I ever got out of them for many years was in visualizing how big a celebration bonfire I could make with them when I had my first short story accepted and published in a magazine.” Erskine Caldwell, “Call it Experience,” in The Creative Writer

Many many years ago – circa 1964 – I read The Creative Writer (quoted above), which is out of print now. You can find old copies, not that you necessarily need to. Much is outdated but at that time, I found it helpful. The book, a collection of instructional and inspirational essays, was published by Writer’s Digest. The magazine was my go-to place to hob-nob with writers and publishers, a publication I read through high school and even into my son’s grammar school years. He told me not too long ago that as a child he found it rather magical that it showed up no matter where we moved. My other go-to magazine was The Writer.

These magazines didn’t so much teach me how to write as offer me some knowledge of the business of writing.  The articles I read instilled a sense of perspective, reasonable expectations (do NOT read lowered aspirations), and determination. I discovered that sending my writing out into the world is like applying for a job. I do my homework and refine my technique. That improves the odds but it is still a numbers game.

Reading what others had to say about the business of studying markets, writing query letters, and submitting work helped me to understand that I had to keep on keeping on. This was a good thing. My first poem was published when I was seventeen and that created some rather unrealistic expectations. I thought I was such a hot-shot that my seventeenth year was also the year I submitted a short story to Mademoiselle magazine (closed 2001) for its annual fiction contest. The contest was for college students. I was still in high school. I lied and put Brooklyn College on the entry form. Joyce Carol Oats won.

All this is to say that while writing is our art, it is also our job and every job has its downsides. “Rejection” is one of downsides of the business of writing. Don’t let it stall you.

Apropos this post, note Victor Villaseñor’s dedication in Macho!: “To my parents …. after ten years of writing and 260 rejections – my first one! …”

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!


For Peace, Sustainability, Social Justice

The Poet by Day officially endorses Bernie Sanders for President.

The New New Deal

Link HERE for Bernie’s schedule of events around the country.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders

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

My Muse Is Not A Demon by Karen Fayeth

Photo by Paulo Carrolo on Unsplash

“My mind is like a carnival?” Karen Fayeth

I don’t know what to write I don’t know what to write I don’t know what to write.

Is exactly what I wrote when trying that age old advice for writer’s block:

Sit down and write something, anything. Just get words on the page.

I’m not saying it is bad advice. Quite the contrary. But repeating the sentences isn’t working.

Oh, I know, I’ll try my old trick of using a random word generator.

*click* The word is: carnival.

A juicy word! Here we go.

Heeeere we go.



My mind is like a carnival?

That’s it, that’s all she wrote.

It’s more like the carnival that left town. Quiet. Dead. Random bits of debris blowing around.

That was almost lyrical and then it wasn’t. A sudden gust of wind that just as suddenly went still.

So goes the ongoing wrestling match with my demons. Well, not demons, that’s an unfair characterization. My Muse is not a demon and my demons are not Muses.

There are those who would say that having writer’s block is simply lack of discipline. Just sit down and write words is the cure.

I get the point but I think it’s unfair. I have always prided myself on being a disciplined writer. I don’t take for granted my ability to quite easily write a thousand words a day. It takes me about twenty minutes.

So when I say I’m blocked, it’s not for lack of words. Knocking out a thousand words with no purpose is unfulfilling. What I yearn for is that pull, that feeling of being in the flow, when the words that flow from my fingertips are not just words but a cohesive chain with something to say.

I have read the experts like Natalie GoldbergAnne Lamott, and Julia Cameron. They are all right and they are all wrong. Their guidance matters and at some point they have all helped me.

The best thing for me to remember is that the good words don’t go away forever. Writer’s block isn’t permanent. That is the focus that keeps me going, knowing they will return and we will flow together again.

But until that happens, I am both thirsty and hungry and yearn for pretty words and meaty thoughts and the satiation I can only feel after feasting on a good turn of phrase.

Until then, I will keep ahold of that good juicy random word. I will work it over like a bad tooth until I find the story that flows from the word carnival. I’ll carry it around in my virtual rucksack until I figure out how to build the word and sentences and phrases that go beyond “my mind is like a carnival.”

Somehow. Somewhere.

My carnival awaits.

Karen Fayeth (Oh Fair New Mexico): Raised most of my life in New Mexico, my job brought me to Northern California. I don’t usually identify myself as a Californian, simply a New Mexican living in California. In the first couple years after moving, I distanced myself from my home state thinking it backward and remote. Then I began to visit home more frequently and truly learned a love for my home state that only comes by gaining perspective. I’m a writer, a crafter, a photographer and labor at a “real job” during the days.

READY, SET, NA-NO-WRI-MO … Tips, Tricks and Writing Rules from P.L. Travers, Henry Miller, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac

ravers in the role of Titania in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, c. 1924
Travers in the role of Titania in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, c. 1924


Some of us say we write from the heart, some from spirit. P. L. Travers, OBE (1899-1996, Australian national, British citizen),  actress, poet and the conjuror of Mary Poppins, wrote in a Parabola* article that

I sit down inside my abdomen and brood and brood until I figure out how I feel about it.”



I noted the quotation above but I don’t remember the exact context of the piece. I think it was Tavers’ way of talking about the exploration of a painful childhood, one out of which she created a children’s classic. She once told a friend that the people and the objects of her early life were like a spindle around which she wove the threads of her imagination. That worked for her as a writer and for us as readers. In using her childhood to create characters and stories, she gave us a gift that ranks with those given to us by J.M. Barrie, L. Frank Baum, C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll.

Of course art-making isn’t therapy, but I often think artists don’t need to be quite so loath to admit some relationship between art-making and therapy.” Short-story writer, Deborah Eisenberg, Paris Review Interview #218, 2016

Travers’ why of writing was – at least in part – to heal and to imagine the childhood she would have liked.

Ultimately, we write for many reasons: to recover, to find closure or completion, to find meaning and understanding and to cherish the gifts of life. I relish life through writing. When I write a poem about an experience or observation, it’s often a way to savor it, prolong or relive the pleasure or heal the wound. It’s a way to live hugely. On the other hand, sometimes I use fiction to reframe experience. I think most people would agree that we also write to have our say and – in the spirit of Joseph Conrad – to help the reader see. That may sound to some like colossal chutzpah, but we all have something to say. We all have a perspective to share.

No matter where our writing comes from or why we write, we have to get the job done. For many of us the muse is a fairly consistent companion. For others it’s a struggle to connect. Either way, we develop habits, disciplines, and rituals to court the muse. It is often as though there is a sort of magical thinking or personal superstition in play. We must sit in this chair at this desk or at this cafe or we simply can’t write. Perhaps that’s why well-known and prolific writers are always being asked how, when and where they write, just another way of saying, “How do you court the muse?”  The answers writers give can reveal demons, superstitions, irritation with the question, or even a tongue firmly in cheek. The “tips” or “rules” can be wise, cool, pragmatic, quirky, absurd or disagreeable. You may end up feeling affirmed, acquiring a useful tool, or finding yourself entertained.

Henry Miller‘s policy was to work on one project at a time. Some will disagree with that. I do. I think many of us find one activity feeds another, that our multiple projects or different artistic outlets form a rich diet for the muse and make us more productive. I have a writer friend who says, “suum cuique” . . . to each his own  . . . though to the old Romans that phrase was about justice (may each get their due), not about writing rituals. But the point is made.

200px-Journal-of-a-novel_cover-smallJohn Steinbeck’s tips are pragmatic, born of a long, intense and consistent experience. In the fall of 1968, Steinbeck was actually too ill for a standard interview and one was pieced together from the East of Eden diaries (Journal of a Novel) and from some letters, which were later collected and published in one book. The tips have been widely published and were also included in Steinbeck’s Paris Review, The Art of Fiction** interview. [The Paris Review Interviews are required reading for writers and poets.]  Steinbeck’s second tip is “Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.” This is consistent with the philosophy and structure of NaNoWriMo. You write, write, write all month and don’t do your rewrites, editing and proofing until after that.

Jack Kerouac’s famous thirty tips are … well, they’re Jack … quirky … but useful  … You can check them out HERE on the Gotham Writers’ Workshop site.

Jack Kerouac by Palumbo
Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), American poet and novelist

The best tip I ever got was to “listen to and feel, see and smell the world around you.” Inspiration is everywhere: in the air and its scents, in the conversations you overhear, in your self-talk and memories, in the arguments with your spouse and the aroma of dinner cooking. It’s in the coo of the mourning dove, in the feel of your child’s hand in yours, in your own hopes and dreams and the life experiences and observations others share with you. Inspiration is in the news and in history. Be open to everything without exception. Nora Ephron constantly reminded those around her that everything “is copy.” We might say that everything holds the seed of a story, a character, or a scene.

Some of my most profitable lessons came from my high school English teacher, Sister Francis of Assisi, C.S.J. who encouraged my early writing. Sometimes I imagine her leaning over my desk and I hear her whispering  …

What is it you really want to say?
Is this word appropriate? It is accurate?
What is your theme?
Does this really have to rhyme? Be cautious of rhyming.
Is this artfully dramatic or is it bad melodrama?
Is that lyrical or flowery?”

Read and read some more:
What writers do you enjoy most? Why? What can you learn from reading their work?
What novels do you dislike? Why? What can you learn from your reaction?

Reorder and rename the everyday. In truth the ordinary is often extraordinary and it’s your job to recognise and illustrate this.

Practically speaking, the muse is probably most responsive to the simple act of gluing the seats of our pants to our chairs and staying there until the job is done. Perhaps the muse is not fickle. Perhaps to be constant she requires our constancy.

Tips, tricks and rules are helpful and can be inspiring, but take them under advisement. In the end, the best magic for courting the muse is the magic that works for you ….

Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand”. Henry Miller

* Parabola is a magazine of The Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition. P.L. Travers was one of the founders.
** The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction interviews from 1953 through 2016 are freely posted online.

© 2016, essay, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Photo credits ~ P.L. Travers via Wikipedia, uploaded there by Rossiter and in the Australian public domain. The book cover art likely belongs to the publisher or estate and is courtesy of Bookworm  (Mary Poppins) and Wikipedia (Journal of a Novel), Jack Kerouac by Palarmo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic


Poet and writer, I was once columnist and the associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.

My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation Press, The River Journal, The Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman