Switching to Left-Brained Work: Technical Edits
If you’ve finished drafting your manuscript, you’ve likely been in a state of flow where the creativity and magic comes straight from your right brain, out through your fingertips, and onto the screen of your computer. And if you’ve been lucky enough to stay in that state throughout the duration, you probably need to do some serious editing!
First, however, put your manuscript aside for as long as you can. Whether days, weeks, or months, give yourself enough time to clear your head and come back to the work with fresh eyes. Then it’s time to start the technical edits.
Fix Grammar, Punctuation, and Spelling
Begin with the technical edits you learned in school. A good spellcheck program in your word processing program will find proper use of punctuation, spelling errors, and grammatical errors that can be easily fixed. Fixing these first will get rid of those annoying colored underlines your word processor puts under incorrectly spelled words and punctuation gaffes.
Now that your screen is no longer filled with harsh red underlines for every misspelled word, it’s time to tackle the next wave of edits.
When you’re in right-brained creative mode, you’re not focused on editing; you’re just focused on getting words on the page. Improving the readability of your work means getting down to the individual sentence and word level and identifying how to make each word count. This is where an editing tool is incredibly useful. It will help you find those areas in your text that are grammatically correct, but that are constructed in a way that is likely to be awkward or unclear for your reader.
Here are 10 key ways an editing tool can strengthen your writing:
1) Find passive and hidden verbs.
Passive verbs can be sneaky. We all know that instead of saying “The ball was caught by Scout,” it sounds better and more active to say “Scout caught the ball.” In contrast, some passive verbs are exactly how you want your sentence to read. Take for example: “Our service is guaranteed to improve your performance,” which uses a passive verb. Passive verbs aren’t necessarily incorrect; just be careful how and when you use them. More often than not, when an editing tool highlights a passive verb, your sentence will be clearer if you change it.
2) Delete adverbs in dialogue.
Use an editing tool to find adverbs in your dialogue tags. For example, “I don’t want to go,” she replied angrily. Using the word “angrily” to convey emotion isn’t nearly as effective as showing how angry your main character really is. Show her slamming doors and scowling in the corner. As Stephen King so succinctly said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
3) Check for overused words.
There are some words and sentence constructions that are fine to use occasionally, but become problematic when you overuse them in your text. They fall into five main categories: 1) Too wishy-washy (could, might, maybe), 2) Telling rather than showing (knew, felt, thought, 3) Weak words dependent on intensifiers (very, really), 4) Nonspecific words (interesting, good, better) and 5) Awkward sentence constructions (eg. Too many sentences starting with an -ing verb). Use the editing tool to seem out all these potentially problematic words to make sure that you are not overusing them.
4) Avoid clichés like the plague. (See what I did there?)
We’re tired of clichés. As George Orwell said, “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other ﬁgure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” You will make much more of an impact with fresh ideas.
5) Catch those sticky sentences.
Sticky sentences are full of glue words like “in,” “to,” “if,” “from,” “with,” “this,” “on,” etc. These are the filler words we sometimes use instead of getting right to the point. Consider this sentence: “In the event that the medical office is not open for people to attend, there are other places you can go to get a prescription from a doctor.” It sounds much better rewritten as “If the medical office is closed, try the walk-in clinic for prescriptions”
6) Eliminate vague words.
Vague words lack specific information and muddy the waters for clear and concise writing. If you say you will be “slightly” late it’s less clear than if you say you will be 20 minutes late. Your understanding of “slightly late” may be quite different to mine. If you want readers to understand exactly what you mean, you need to choose words with strong denotations instead of a vague term open to interpretation
7) Avoid repeats.
Repeating words or phrases comes naturally when you’re in the flow. If you’ve just used a word to describe something, it’s on the tip of your tongue, and you’re bound to use it again. Use an editing tool to highlight repetitive words and phrases and then find another way to make the point.
8) Vary your sentence length.
Short, average, and longer sentences create rhythm in your writing, making it easier for readers to follow along. If every sentence is short, your writing will sounds choppy. If every sentence is long, it will sound overly complicated and verbose. If you sentences are all the same length, it will sounds tedious. Check to make sure that your sentence lengths ebb and flow.
9) Check your pacing.
This is important in any manuscript. You want the action to wax and wane to let your readers catch their breath. If every paragraph is full of action, how will your readers have the chance to learn about inner conflicts and character traits? The calm in between action scenes gives readers a chance to contemplate what they read and understand how your characters think in addition to act.
10) Simplify your vocabulary
Too often, inexperienced writers will use a complex word when a simple one would be better. It is not wrong to use complex words, but paragraphs that contain too many may become unclear. If you can replace a complex word with a simpler one – e.g. articulated with said or proximate with near – then do it.
And Much More…
There’s more you can do to improve your manuscript’s readability and the ProWritingAid Editing Tool will help.
ProWritingAid.com is a free online editing tool that analyzes your writing and returns reports on 26 technical edits to improve your writing. It’s simple to use. You can either upload a document or paste your content into the online editor. Then click on the reports you’d like to run. It also offers add-ins for MS Word, Scrivener, Google Docs and Chrome so you can use ProWritingAid no matter where you write.
The Editing Tool runs the above edits and several more for you, but it doesn’t make any changes. It points out potential issues and then you, the author, decide which suggestions will improve your text and which to ignore.
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