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  • A.E. Santana

Five self-editing tips & tricks

Writing isn’t writing, it’s rewriting. So says many an inspirational quote on the interwebs regarding editing, but I also happen to agree. Give yourself permission to write a bad first draft, then edit the heck out of it. Become comfortable with tearing up your own story because you’ll eventually give it to someone else to tear up—I mean edit. But until then, here are five self-editing tips and tricks that can help you beat that first draft.

1. The thing about adverbs

Stephen King said, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” The idea here is that adverbs are flowery words that can hinder the impact of your writing. Yet, instead of not using them at all, I suggest being mindful and conservative with them. But that’s not the editing tip. The tip is: Because an adverb is a word that modifies another word, a phrase, or a sentence, be careful where you place it. It’s surprising how a misplaced adverb can confuse a sentence, snowballing into confusing the paragraph, and so on. Look at your surrounding words to be sure you are clearly attributing the adverb to the correct word or phrase. When in doubt, listen to the King, and kill it.

2. Dialogue tags are “said” and “asked”

Sometimes when we’re writing we want to show off how witty and creative we are, especially when we have characters interacting. This is often manifested by using incorrect dialogue tags. A dialogue tag is a word that signals when someone is speaking. So, the tag/word that should only ever be used is “said,” or “asked” when dealing with questions. People do not smile words or *eye twitch* smirk them. People do not laugh words or frown them. I hear you when you say words can be shouted or whispered. Fine. But don’t go overboard. Dialogue tags are meant to be helpful and invisible. Meaning, when done right, the reader will barely register the tags, if at all. There are other more accurate and creative ways to draw attention to how your character says something without breaking the laws of physics having them leer or giggle the words out. Please don’t do that. When in doubt, keep it simple. She said. He said. They said.

3. Starting a new paragraph

Some of us have a hard time figuring out when to begin a new paragraph. Is it every 100 words? 200? Every time someone speaks, right? Fortunately, word count doesn’t matter. Paragraphs can be pages long but they may also be only a single word. A new paragraph begins with a new thought, new action, new dialogue, etc., grouping together similar ideas, occurrences, descriptions, etc. When beginning a new paragraph the writer is signaling a shift to the audience. Paragraphs following these natural shifts help with readability, keeping your reader from getting lost on the page. Feel your narrative out, when are the shifts happening? Make that your new paragraph. Your readers’ eyes will thank you.

4. Don’t repeat yourself

As writers, sometimes we know exactly what we want to say but we don’t know how to say it. Or we do know and really want to get our point across. Either way, this may lead to repeating ourselves. We won’t always catch these repetitions because we’re saying the same thing with different words—going around in circles—beating a dead horse. You get it. Usually, people tend to repeat the same “beat”—meaning the same idea, thought, or point. If you described it once, that’s enough. Go into your story, pinpoint these duplicates, find your favorite version, and place it where you feel the line(s) has the most impact. Delete all other references. An exception is the purposeful use of callbacks (an internal allusion, helping to give structure to the piece of writing).

5. Cut the clichés

People may say that they hate clichés, but a lot of us use them. We do it because they’re familiar, tried and true, and many of them are clever. Unfortunately, clichés make your work seem tired and lazy. Do your best to be original and not fall back on these overused phrases and terms. If you’re not sure if you’re populating your work with clichés, do a quick search on the internet. There are many sites that have long lists of clichés. Here is one I use: 681 Clichés to Avoid in Your Creative Writing. An exception would be to turn the cliché on its head, like an antiproverb (transformation of a proverb or cliché for humor).

What are some editing tips and tricks you use? Feel free to share in the comments.


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