Aug 212013
Basic corrections I make over and over again

Ernest Hemingway said “The first draft of anything is shit”. That’s why writers edit and revise. The editing process can be fun as you reshape scenes, delve deeper into a character, and bring the story to life. It can be excruciating as you struggle to figure out why a scene isn’t working and wonder if you’ll ever be done.

There are many stages of revision and editing, from the overall perspective of the story arc and character development to word by word craftsmanship. It is at this word by word level that I am continually surprised to find I need to make the same basic corrections, paragraph after paragraph, story after story.

I suspect that each writer has her own recurring corrections. In my case they are:

  • Remove the word “that”. It is almost never needed.
  • Remove the word “then”. Again, almost never needed.
  • Remove the word “some”. The vagueness of the word detracts from whatever point or image I want to make. Sometimes, I remove it completely. Sometimes, I replace it with a more specific description.
  • Add or remove commas. I may do this several times. The proper use of the comma still eludes me. Thank goodness for style guides and manuals.
  • Change passive voice to active. “They went to the store” is better than “They were going to the store”, although still not as descriptive or informative as “They walked to the store”. Fortunately, I don’t always use the passive voice. Not every verb in my first draft needs to be changed.
  • Reduce the number of present participle verbs. e.g. “She stood still, leaning her hand on the counter.” I find I am drawn to “ing” words. Some are okay and work well in the story, but it becomes monotonous when I use too many.

I thought that over time and after many revisions, my natural writing would change to automatically incorporate these corrections the first time through. It appears not to be the case universally, although it sometimes does happen. In editing, as well as life, we don’t always learn from our mistakes the first, second, or third time. In life, though, we only have the first draft.

What are the things you find you need to continually edit in your own writing?

There are two typos of people in this world: those can edit, and those who can’t. ∼Jarod Kintz

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. ∼Elmore Leonard

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