Archives for category: Editing

This post part of a series called “Don’t Do This” aimed at helping you avoid bad writing habits, identify and steer clear of the pitfalls of poor writing, and become the writer-communicator that people want to follow. (Because no one has arrived. And all of us can use platinum ideas, to be better at the craft of writing.)

It’s like a book online. Free. Bite sized, motivating, practical bits. You’ll like it because it’s all about what works, the how-to for an immediate increase in your writing effectiveness.

Get every word, catch the take-away to apply, and become a sharper writer, right now…

“drive safe” and reasons.

It’s wintertime in Michigan. That means instead of saying, Have a great day! with a saccharine lilt, we say, Drive safe, with sober sincerity.

Michigan winters bring dangerous roads. Especially with the 193-car pile up yesterday on I-94 that killed people — a horrific event on both sides of the highway involving 76 semis, 117 cars, and a truck full of exploding fireworks. The phrase, drive safe, echoes everywhere.

Here’s the truth: Powerful moments motivate us. The crash-crazy event is on everyone’s mind. The reverberating WHOA, THAT WAS AWFUL skitters across social media.

Think writing, now.

Here’s the truth: Powerful moments motivate even the smallest phrases on the page. Everything you write must have a reason, a motivation, and a core to why it’s there. 

Because all quality, powerful, emotion-evoking and mind-changing words must exist for meaning’s sake. We simply cannot afford to use words for words’ sake. I know this sounds Duh! but we’re all guilty.

We’re in love with our own words. But we simply can’t be. You and I must Happily. Let. Go. No, I’m not going to burst into the Disney song, but I am going to say this:

For nonfiction writing,
the words you choose 
echo your
key intentions.
For fiction writing,
the words you choose 
be saturated with
your characters’

Think about it.

For anything nonfiction.
emails to blogs to books…
(Get this.)
Your goal is to write the most dynamic — and, yes, succinct — piece, with words chosen to equal the diamond of your idea. Forget the frills, the fluff, the foo — we need clear, purpose-filled words. Unless the words drive the reader to your point, you have to let them go (cue music). Edit. A lot. (Keep asking yourself, Do I really need this?) 

Wordsmith your ideas to get them to the bright, powerful meaning they deserve. Wordsmithing is a cool word, don’t you agree? Tell someone, I’m wordsmithing, and watch his or her face. Your wordsmithed ideas are the ones that  burn onto the page — and into the reader’s heart.


For all forms of fiction.
short stories to screenplays to epics…
(Get this.)

In every scene — every paragraph — your character’s motivation is at work. Her reasons surface in her words, her movements, her choices. If it’s not surely tied into her reasons, her internal drives, then rewrite. Edit. A lot.

Wordsmith your ideas to get your story to the enticing, powerful movement with meaning —  burning onto the page and into the reader’s heart.

Don’t do this:
Don’t fall in love with your words.
Be willing to toss words, lines, paragraphs, entire chapters with gusto.

Do this:
Be flexible — even joyous — at slicing, tossing, and shifting. Expect to reform your page with everything you write. Rarely — if ever — will you get the diamond the first time. Pros take heavy-duty machetes to the page.


Don’t do this:
Don’t start writing without thinking deeply. 
As in jumping into an idea prematurely. He who fails to plan plans to fail. And he who swims in the idea pool with shallow waters doesn’t swim far.

Do this:
Write out your motivation.
* In nonfiction writing,
what response do you want the reader to have, after reading your work? You need a powerful phrase that nails the reader’s reason to read your work. In marketing terms, that’s your reader’s benefit. Have a driving benefit in mind before you write.

But how do you get to the on-fire benefit? 

Here’s how: Before you start, write a guiding phrase that states WHY someone would read what you write. Then write the action that you want your reader to take, at the end of reading your piece. Use that guiding phrase in all that you write. Keep it in front of you. For every paragraph. Every word. Seriously. Everything you write must be tied into that phrase.

* In fiction writing, every living creature in your story must have a clear and guiding motivation. So before you start, write them down — what drives every person to feel what he or she feels, to do what he or she does. Use motivations to guide all that you write. A.L.L. Keep the motivation in front of you. For every page. Seriously. Everything that your character does must be tied into that motivation.

You know, I was supposed to be on I-94 yesterday. Yes, at that exact time, in the exact place where the 193-car pile-up happened. Because of the poor weather, I changed my plans. I took drive safe as a serious, action-inducing motivation — a motivation that changed my behavior. And, boy, am I’m glad that I did.

Find your motivations. Use them.

Oh. And drive safe. Please.
Life is precious.

* Thup

(For writers.)

A good breezeful of comments came in on the “three editing types” post,
so on request, here are some off-beat yet effective ways to edit your piece for content, sound, and cadence.

1. First, I’m not going to mention reading your words aloud. And I won’t utter a word about using another person to read your work to you. Far be it from me to mention the power of hearing your words’ layout and cadence, through speech.
(Inside paralipsis joke for English maniacs.)

2. Read “Back to Front” First. For a paragraph or a short piece, read the text backward. Word for word. Then read it forward (normally). There’s something about reading backward first that makes the eyes and brain see the words differently — catching flat-out errors and exposing uncomfortable word/sentence choices. I know — it sounds bizarre when you do it, but reading backwards first works. (Say that ten times.)

3. Use the “Read to Me” Function on your computer. Sure, the cadence won’t be perfect. But errors do pop out with ease — even within the robo-voice imperfection. (If you don’t know how to make read-to-me-robo-voice work, get the how-to instructions here.) Personally, I like Mr. Australian voice. (Let’s leave it at that.)

4. For Deeper Editing, Read to Answer these Three Questions:

QUESTION 1: What’s the point?

For a nonfiction chapter,
that’s does my reader walk away with one idea that moves him or her to action? Nonfiction is all about motivating the reader to feel, think, or act. Know the response you’re trying to elicit, and you’ll be able to focus your words to get your target response.

For nonfiction, on the margin of the every page, write the main point (main idea/action). If you can’t come up with a clear point, then you need to edit more, for focus.

For a fiction chapter, that’s does the reader walk away with 1) a feeling and 2) a plot question? Fiction is all about relationships — and the plot points that move those relationships forward. In order to capture the reader, in each chapter, we need to know the emotional/relational response that we’re trying to elicit from the reader. Then we need to know what actions (the plot) bring out the emotions the best. It’s like riding on the back of an alligator. The alligator’s the plot point. The “Whheeeeeeee!” is the emotion. (Fun picture, eh?)

For fiction, on the margin of every page, write the relationship feeling you’re trying to elicit and the plot point that you’re moving within. If you can’t come up with either, edit for emotional focus.

QUESTION 2: Is it linear?

In other words, does my writing hold the reader’s hand from one thought to the next? No skips. No bumps. Nothing left out.

There’s an easy way to find lapses in the linear construction: You hold one copy of your page, pen in hand. Your friend then holds the exact same page and begins reading your work to you. Every single time your friend pauses, hesitates, stops, restarts, squints his eyes, cocks his head, makes a face, does a double take, or even takes a breath and licks his lips, mark the page. Exactly where the hiccup happened, mark it.

There’s a reason for every hiccup. Something is wrong. Something needs to be changed. (Oh. And the deep breath/lip licking is usually a mark of a run on sentence or too many ideas/too much info at once.)

QUESTION 3: Is the sensory detail balanced? 
Sight, sound, touch, taste, smell — Do I have all of the senses on the page? Even nonfiction needs sensory writing.

To check your sensory writing (to see if there’s too little or too much sensory description), print just one page. Then circle every sensory word. Note what kind of word it is (which sense is being used). Check to see if you use one sense over the others…or if you’re completely missing a sense…or if your use of the senses is so overkill, you’re drowning the reader in mushwords, slogging the reader into boredom (“Get on with the story!”).

Well, speaking of slogging… that’s enough to sip on.

(Insert long drink of coffee here.)

Don’t leave the job of editing to others. The more deeply you edit, the better your work — and the more readers will stick around.

(Go forth and edit.)
* Thup

PS. Yes, this is my cup today. I’m impressed, Miss Barista. Bravo.

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