When Editing Gets Away From You (A Confession)

Writing in Color - EraserWhen I started this blog I said that it would include my writing journey, which I have done to some extent. However, I haven’t shared one of my handicaps as a writer. I love writing, but I also like killing. Yep. I bring words to life and then I take them out back and shoot them. This we call fun. In general this is a good quality for a writer to have, but I can get carried away.

I start out with a good paragraph or sentence that’s logical but a bit wordy. I remove the wordiness, but I edit the sense out of it too. If you understand this, raise your hand. Maybe we can start a support group.

Here are a few of the ways I can go overboard.I sometimes refer to this as over-editing.

1. Trying too hard not to reuse words. In writing a first draft, do you tend to overuse the same words while getting your thoughts on the page? I do. It’s good to work on that in editing, but don’t go too far. If you use “table” in a sentence, you don’t have to say “wood surface” three sentences later. Look for excessive use of non-descriptive common worWriting - Eraserds like thing, task, or work. Use specific words that will lend clarity or rewrite whole sentences if necessary.

2. Removing needed words. I occasionally edit out important words, which leaves the sentence unclear.

Such as: I discovered people were willing to help when I lost my wallet.

I discovered that people were willing to help me search when I lost my wallet.

(I didn’t discover the people. The people also didn’t help me lose the wallet.)

My notes helped me more than my classmate. Two interpretations are possible.

My notes helped me more than my classmate did.

My notes helped me more than they helped my classmate.

Additional words are need for clarification.

Computer hand typing3. Stringing too many sentences or ideas together. Then there is my love of the semicolon; I try to weave too many words together. Stop. Think first. Start a new thought. Shorter sentences do work. They break up longer ones giving the reader a chance to breathe.

4. Replacing words with pronouns. In the quest for shorter sentences, occasionally I’ll replace “First National Holdings and Trust” withMechanical-Pencil_hand writing a pronoun. Often when I look back it is not clear what the pronoun refers too. If it’s not clear what it refers back to, spell it out rather than using it (the pronoun).

So, you now know a few of the items that I struggle with when I switch hats from writer to editor. Fortunately, I have another wonderful editor who is also my best friend and wife. She loves words as much as I do. If I shoot at too many words, she nurses them back to health and adds them back in.

Can you relate to any of these?

What do you wrestle with?

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16 comments on “When Editing Gets Away From You (A Confession)
  1. Karen J says:

    Good points to aware of, Peter – and Friends!
    “Hard-and-fast rules” always have exceptions – some more common than others.

  2. Bethanie says:

    Ah, the joys of editing. I thought I would hate it, then I took it on as part of my profession and ended up loving it, especially when I get to see books before they come out. I love seeing what it was and then what it became.

  3. scottleblog says:

    Oh gosh, yes! I’m a criminal when it comes to leaving out important little clarifying words. My high school English teacher drummed into my head the importance of making sure “it” is explained. Thanks for the post!

  4. Some good points. Through my MFA program, I am finally learning to just get the words and ideas down. Revision is entirely different from the process of writing the first draft. Unfortunately, I am having to do a bit of both, as my final thesis is due in April and I am majorly revising it. Good blog. Think I will add you to my blogroll at http://blogbyalady.wordpress.com.

  5. EHayes says:

    I. Love. This. Post.

    I often end up saying the same thing in different ways and then end up having to choose which version. It’s totally by accident. I’ve also found that I start sentences with “okay” way too many times and somehow end up on a mission to rework. Forever, I end up reworking it so that I don’t sound like a high school cheerleader.

  6. Preach it, Peter! Editing is a flesh-eating disease. And I love whacking words and clarifying clunkiness–but I’m first to admit that sometimes I throw the baby out with the bath water. AAUGH!!!! Get that cliche outa there!

  7. mcwoman says:

    Peter — In college we called editing, “killing our babies.” It was tough to learn a balance between eliminating the superfluous wordiness and cutting down to the bone, leaving no flesh to chew on. I don’t worry about such self-editing as I’m writing my first draft. Things I have a tendency to do is use too many coordinating conjunctions. I overuse the word “that”. And sometimes I leave off word endings because my brain thinks faster than I can type — and I type FAST, over 100 wpm. I also neglect to put in small two-letter words. So those are the things I watch for in the second, third and other successive drafts. THEN it goes to the editor to make sure what I’ve written makes sense. This got kind of windy, but I didn’t go back and kill any of these babies.

    • I heard that analogy used before. I try not to use it much. I’d rather think of it as killing my words only, because words are sorta like Christmas snow, they’re never really gone.

  8. simplyenjoy says:

    I nominated you for a “Sunshine Award.” Thanks for this post.

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