Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Guest Post: "Learn all about Self-editing" -- Including MY thoughts on self-editing! :-)

Disclaimer: On occasion I get these random requests for “guest posts” on my blog. Whenever I can, I try to include them. I know there are links in the bylines that are essentially advertisement (and please exercise your right to ignore them if you so choose). But sometimes the material is very interesting and/or entertaining.

I was wary to take this particular post because I am a freelance editor, and teaching someone to self-edit could be potentially dangerous for my business, for my livelihood, aside from that fact that self-editing is generally and understandably frowned upon. But once I started reading, I realized I could use this to my advantage.

I have actually “edited” this post on self-editing (yes, I am OCD!). :-) To maintain Ms. Miller’s voice and intent, I have not completely changed it (there are still errors), but I have corrected things so they are hopefully easier to read and understand. So self-editing isn’t foolproof, and it certainly should NOT take the place of a professional editor!

These self-editing tips are indeed something to consider as you are writing. Just mastering basic grammar and mechanics can make your editor’s life so much easier. And then we can focus more on the bones of the story rather than the surface elements. It is something that can even cross over into your everyday professional and social life. (We all know someone who needs some serious Facebook editing!)

But different styles, different genres, different audiences, different authors require different circumstances. What you write for your parenting blog is far different than what you want to write for a middle-grade fantasy novel (I hope!). You may need to use more complex compound sentences in your work to keep it from sounding stiff and stilted. You may find yourself writing a ten-sentence paragraph because that’s just the way it needs to be. 

Hey, sometimes we are just walking along, listening to the twittering of the birds in the willow trees. :-) 

A great editor always takes specific circumstances into consideration and polishes the manuscript accordingly. We offer a fresh, objective point of view, and it is our JOB to know the basic rules and to know where to find them when we are faced with something new. I may be a little biased, but I believe it is crucial for the success of your work to have it professionally edited in some form before it is submitted for public review and enjoyment! So please, please do not rely on a handful of basic self-editing tips; there is so much more involved...

Learn all about Self-editing
by Sandra Miller

Even a professional writer gets surprised upon having the below secrets revealed by great editors worldwide. If you get a chance to take a glimpse of the raw work of the most professional writers, you will surely be pretty overwhelmed. Professional writers do get a lot of works and projects out simply because they meet their deadlines, stay on their message, and are professional enough not to throw out useless tantrums. Some professional writers have a great writing style, but more often than not, errors still get in the way.

Professional writers and the world-class quality of their works depend on their editors. Editors can be compared to gardeners. They shape plants and flowers with great care and quality. If the editing is done well, the pages will look better than ever. This article will reveal the top secrets of great editors to ensure that you will be able to write like a pro!

1.     Use just one sentence at a time

All of us probably know how a kid sounds when she runs out of breath before finishing all her thoughts in just one long sentence. For writing sentences, you need a noun, a verb, and at times, an object. Just take note of it: sentences are building blocks, not a bungee cord. Most writers take advantage of dividing their longest sentences into shorter, more powerful and meaningful ones.
Editor's Note: It is true you don't want to bog down the reader with overly long or straight-up run-on sentences. In that same vein, however, if you only write short, choppy sentences, your work will be boring and juvenile. Mix it up and keep the reader on her toes!
2.     Paragraphs can only work on one thing at a time

Each paragraph should discuss a single idea. Construct complex arguments by combining simple ideas that flow logically. Every time a new idea is introduced, you must add a line break. Short paragraphs consisting of about three of four sentences are the most reader friendly. This is much more important if you’re writing for the Web.
Editor's Note: I definitely agree about use on the Web. It is hard enough staring at a computer screen all day, and if you have to wade through a twenty-sentence paragraph, well, that just stinks!!! BUT you can't hold every type of writing to a three- or four-sentence rule. You just can't. Every work is unique, and what works for some may not work for you. It's best to let your creative juices flow and leave the "rules" for later... and usually for your editor!
 3.     Be careful on using “ing”

Verbs ending in “ing” are typically weak. For example, instead of using “I am walking,” try to replace it with “I walk.” You do not necessarily need to be grammatically perfect to be able to do this effectively. Just rewrite those “ing” words as much as you can, and you are good to go.
Editor's Note: I think this and the passive voice rule should be combined. It is true we don't want to use only passive voice or only verbs ending in -ing. However, sometimes they serve their purpose. Making your writing fresh and varied is what keeps your reader interested in what is going on. For fiction, we want things to feel as real as possible, and I don't know a person alive who always uses proper grammar in their everyday "real" life—not even an editor like me. ('Cause y'all know we all redneck here in Alabama! ;-)) So, yes, trim the passive voice and keep things active the majority of the time, but be sure there is an easy balance, dialogue is true to your characters, and mix things up a little!
 4.     Remove unnecessary words

We have been hearing this since we were in our secondary school years, but of course most of us weren’t listening at all. It is undeniably harder when you are editing your own writing piece of art. We tend to put in a wide range of words, including the flowery ones. Well, the truth is there is also a wide range of reasons why we should get rid of those useless words. The biggest and most valid reason is that extra words eat up a big part of your work. The fewer words used to express an idea, the more power it has. For example, instead of saying “on a daily basis,” try saying “every day.” You can always improve sentences by rewriting them in fewer words.
Editor's Note: I don't have much to say about this other than there are a lot of unnecessary words in this rule. Ha-ha... One of the main things I do as an editor is trim the fat, so to speak. The beautiful, talented Cambria Hebert can tell you I have a serious issue with the word "that." But there are other words that (<--note this is NOT an unnecessary instance of "that" ;-)) are often overused, such as a, of, had... But sometimes you need to toss in those "unnecessary" words because they help clarify something or change up the wording so you aren't repeating yourself and/or boring your reader to death.  
I go to the store every day. (Bo-ring!) 
On a daily basis, you can find me at my local Publix, picking up ingredients for a fresh homemade meal for my boisterous family. (From this ONE sentence, we learn the author likes Publix, they eat and cook fresh food, and their family is boisterous. Wow!) 
It's all in how you execute! (And I said I didn't have much to say...)
5.     Reframe majority of thought in a passive voice (Editor's translation: Reframe passive voice into active voice)

French speakers practice an elegantly managed passive voice to be the height of a refined work. But in English countries like the United States, Great Britain, and Australia, action is valued. “We do things” is inherently more worth reading than “Things are done by us.” Passive voice muddies your writing. When the actor is not featured, then the action makes less or no sense at all. 
Editor's Note: I actually love the final sentence (which was edited by moi). Passive voice has it's time and place, but active voice is where it's at! ;-)
A great bonus: Use the infamous spell check

A single misspelled word in the middle of a good and sensible piece of work is a major turnoff to readers. Keep in mind that “a lot” and “all right” are always spelled as two words. After all, it takes no longer than five seconds for you to use the help of spell checker.

Editor's Note: I'll let you in on a little secret. I use spell check. Gasp! I don't, however, rely on spell check. After I have completed an edit, I will run the spelling and grammar check just in case I have missed something obvious. Microsoft Word is not that smart. It often makes suggestions that make absolutely NO sense whatsoever, and if you were to accept those proposed changes, you'd be left with one hella jacked-up manuscript. But there are times I haven't noticed there are double words or maybe "necessary" is misspelled (seriously, I think that is the hardest word for me to type correctly!). It still doesn't catch all the errors (and there isn't a manuscript on this planet that is 100% error free!), but it's at least one more layer of defense when used objectively and properly. 
And it most definitely takes more than five seconds to do that ;-)... 
About the guest author: Sandra Miller is a writer from New York and an NYU graduate with a PhD in English Literature. While writing her first book, Sandra learned the art of self-publishing. She recommends authors use professional editing services (https://help.plagtracker.com).

In closing, I do want to apologize to Ms. Miller for picking apart her lovely article. I did so with only the best intentions. She honestly did have some good points, and as I said before, authors could absolutely benefit from keeping simple rules and suggestions like this in mind while they are writing or doing a read through before editing. 

One of the hardest things I face whenever I manage to scrape out some precious writing time is trying to keep things straight and editing myself as I go along. Nothing kills creativity like an annoying set of do's and don't's hovering around. So, again, just let your creative juices flow and then send your rockin' manuscript over to me and I'll whip it into super-shiny shape for you. :-)