Editing Fundamentals I: Less is More

Editing is my one of my favorite parts of writing. I love rearranging a piece, improving the best parts and working to bring out its potential. But I used to hate editing until I discovered how much better my work could be if I removed a few things.

It took me a long time to accept the notion, but I now delete the “chaff” in my work, usually about twenty percent of it. (In fact, that sentence barely made it into the final draft.) The material I remove contains wandering sentences, loose ends and side points of little importance. And I won't lie, removing stuff is hard work, it feels like butchering your writing. You will often delete things you hold dear.

But whatever you do, do not edit as you go. Should you try this, your writing will be stilted and dry. Let your ideas flow as you write and take out the unneeded ones later.

And, finally, here are four things to be on the lookout for as you edit. If these are removed from your writing, it will be more clear, memorable and professional.

 
Useless Statements. For instance: editing is helpful for most writers. Editing is a good thing to do. Editing is best done with careful consideration. Anyone who is sufficiently interested in editing to read this post will likely know these things already, and it is not very useful information, anyway. Good editing would discard such ambiguous yet obvious content.

 
Redundant Sentences. An example: I ignored the rest of his speech, not paying attention. We already know the speech was ignored, so it goes without saying it did not receive any attention. Delete the second part of the sentence.

Long, Showy Words. Ofttimes it is exceedingly tempting to employ ostentatious wordings. However, displaying the immensity of one's vocabulary ought not be the objective of writing. One likes to dazzle one's readers, but if they cannot apprehend what is being communicated, then one's writing is in vain. Moreover, an inordinate use of extravagant language could enkindle another difficulty, you may misapply a sesquipedalian word and become an object of derision.

The Word That. This is just a pet peeve of mine. I firmly believe the word that clutters up a sentence, and most of the time it is a needless, but habitual addition to writing. Each use of that in the following can be taken out to improve clarity: I think that the squirrel is eating that food in such a way that it may choke, and that I might need to do the Heimlich maneuver on it. Bottom line: don't use that unless you have to.

What are some of your favorite editing tips?

Comments

  1. This was helpful and provoking! I'm not a fan of editing draft after draft, but you've encouraged me to have a better affection for it. Not just a necessary evil kind of affection, but see it for the forging fires it really is.

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