Guest Post: Editing tips to improve your writing

You have probably heard many magazine owners, business people, teachers, and just about everyone else complaining about how people have lost the ability to write. However, I have a problem with that point of view because I strongly believe that there are many talented modern writers; the only factor that separates them from great writers is that they don’t know how to edit their own work. Editing doesn’t kill the work! In fact, it can make it much better, easily readable and more captivating.

The most famous pieces of literature didn’t exactly fly under the pens of their writers. Some of the most renowned writers in the history have literally destroyed parts of their work when they weren’t happy with it. A writer can become better only when he learns how to judge the worth of his own writing, without feeling too attached to it and without being afraid to cut down the unnecessary parts.

Many people can write, but the editing process is what makes the real difference between good writers and amateurs. Implement our simple editing tricks and bring your writing a step closer to the readers.

1. Avoid passive sentences

Passive language is used by unconvincing writers who make weak, unsecure arguments. This type of writing only suggests the effect instead of conveying the action, which doesn’t make the readers too happy. The conclusion is to avoid using passive language as much as possible!

2. Let go of the ill-favored adverbs

It is completely fine to use adverbs in your writing, only when they don’t serve the sole purpose of padding a statement that doesn’t need that. Your readers will appreciate you more if you don’t give them an entire page stuffed with unnecessary words only to make a simple statement that can be written in one or two sentences.

3. Don’t repeat your statements

The high school habit of repeating things all over again just to fill out more pages of the papers may have left you with some remaining damage. This rule applies in the work as a whole, as well in sentences: do not waste your readers’ time by repeating obvious things and insulting their intelligence! If you already told them something, there is no need in repeating it all over again.

4. Don’t be pretentious!

There is one thing that readers hate more than repetitive writing: the use of pretentious language. Don’t try to impress your reader by using fancy words that would require a dictionary to be understood. This is a problem for many inexperienced writers who are stuck to the language that sounds ‘academic’ to them. Present your thoughts in a manner that will be easy to read and understand, but will inspire deeper thoughts in the reader’s mind. The most exquisite pieces of literature that are able to cause a revolution in the reader’s soul are usually written in a simple language that hits the point.

5. Justify your writing

Every single word you write, every joke, statement and question has to be justified with a real reason to be present in your writing. If you can’t find a reason for a certain phrase, sentence, word or an entire chapter to be part of the piece – get rid of them! Don’t be afraid to be harsh on yourself, because if you can’t justify your work, how can you justify the time your readers spend on it?

6. Cut instead of adding

Many writers get too attached to their work and they aren’t able to cut down the pieces that don’t belong there. Instead of making their own writing cleaner with the editing process, they end up adding more and more until they completely dilute the main idea. What you need to do is make your writing more concise through the editing process, which means that you will need to leave out some parts in order to make the entire work more powerful.

7. Take a break from your work

Writers usually need to work under strict deadlines, but it is recommended for them to ‘sleep on the work’ at least for a couple of nights before they start editing it. Here is a quote by Stephen King, who managed to capture the essence of this rule: “When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”

There is no better way of ‘looking at the forest’ than by reading your piece pretending that someone else wrote it. The only way to be able to do that is if you forget about it for few days and then approach it from a different point of view.

8. Read your writing in reverse

Reading backwards is a simple editing trick used by many professional writers. If you read your writing word by word in reverse, you will be able to spot mistakes that went unnoticed by your careful eye before. This is a nice way to proofread and correct minor spelling errors, but you shouldn’t rely on the ‘read in reverse’ trick when it comes to correcting the meaning of your content. A better way to focus on the meaning is to read paragraph by paragraph or sentence by sentence from back to front. This will make sense and enable you to focus on the content.

9. Read out loud

When you make some corrections and improvements within your work, it is good to read out loud and listen to the way they sound. If you are having second thoughts on which version of a sentence or passage to use, then you will decide more easily if you read them out loud.

Conclusion: there is no good writing without good editing

Good editing is an art, and there is no exaggeration in that statement. Developing a real editing talent takes a lot of time and practice, but if you devote yourself to it, you will definitely become more appreciated by your readers.

The result from your editing effort is worth struggling for: your writing will become more powerful, effective and alive. Ultimately, it will bring you more satisfied readers who understand and appreciate your work, which what writers are always striving for.

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Sandra Miller is a freelance writer, lives in New York. Two times a year watches Friends sitcom, loves salsa. Uses editing service to write great material. Her passion is Latin American culture.

11 Comments

  1. Number 5 really resonated with me. When I was writing Reborn City, I had a whole chapter that explained how that world came to be, and I had another chapter that involved a sex scene. During the 2nd draft, I took out that chapter and the sex scene because I couldn’t see how they improved the story story at all. I’m glad I did. The novel’s much tighter without them.

  2. Reblogged this on .

  3. n3melnyk says:

    I have a super pretentious writer’s voice. I’m trying to relax i, though. I’ve never heard of “read it backward” trick but I’m definitely going to try it. thanks.

  4. allrighters says:

    I have heard them all before but they do take some time to sink in! – Alexander

  5. sknicholls says:

    This is a great post for where I am right now. Thanks. Timeliness is good Karma.

  6. TheGirl says:

    Yep, I edited my work and I know where my weaknesses are (passive voice thus making it present tense and more active voice, semi colons and comas where they don’t belong) BUT luckily, I had about have my work looked over by a friend, and then I’m sending it to two freelance editors. The more eyes that look at it, the better so the manuscript will have less than 3% errors (compared to traditionally published works).

  7. I knew an author who was guilty of #4. She was very intelligent, a teacher, and a talented novelist. But she used words that frustrated a lot of her readers. She told me she refused to “talk down” to her readers. I asked her if she’d prefer they think she was looking down at them.

  8. AR Neal says:

    Love this list!!!!

  9. celenagaia33 says:

    Absolutely fantastic points here; 4 & 6 in particular, I’m constantly slinging at people when they ask me to help with editing.

    Thanks so much for this concise list. Definitely following your blog.

  10. #4 really speaks to me. I’ve seen one too many of those pretentious scribblers….

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