Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Your Weekly Editing Tips

The cat's outta the bag. It's only in this writing lark that I moonlight, occasionally query and lose myself in my own worlds.

In the real world, I'm an editor. Not a book editor – a copy, line-by-line, find-your-voice-and-work-it editor who's passion it is to make other people look fabulous. Professionally, I have years of experience working in print and online media for newspapers, magazines, web sites – even elevators. I've (for real) been dubbed the tsarina of style and the queen of commas.

I won't compliment-sandwich you because I know that you need to hear the bad before you can really appreciate the good. This can make me a real pain-in-the-ass to write for, but at least I tell you what's wrong in a helpful way (if not tone) – give an agent/publisher a dirty manuscript and they just won't write you back at all.

...But I'm not that annoying kind of editor who sits back with a red pen (though I do unabashedly use a red pen) and dictates how things should and shouldn't be based on a set of arbitrary rules. I'm the kind who revels in letting the writer find his/her own voice. I love getting into the prose and writing suggestions with 'Is this what you meant to say?' and smiley faces. I love teaching people how to be better within the parameters of their own talent.

I've re-found this purpose recently with Deana's GUTGAA Blogfest (see side panel). Amist worry that I'd run out of constructive things to say with 30+ participating authors with their own ideas – or worse, making enemies with my honest critiques – I found bliss. And redundancy. And some very vibrant writing by very talented authors who simply need to find a willing, dust-free bookshelf.

Thus, I came up with a few tips that I seemed to write on every critique. Enjoy :)

Adverbs aren't always terrible. I love a well-placed adverb. Constantly trying to replace them is just not a great use of your time. But, if you think you have TOO MANY, I found a blog recently that had a great idea on how to erase them while also making your writing more full: Angie's Adverb Charades. I’m totally going to use this trick myself.

Be consistent. Want to use a series comma? Fine by me (even though it hurts my head), just make sure you always do it. If you're going to spell something oddly, then the least you can do is *always* spell it that way. You can make your MC totally annoying, and it'll always be OK as long as you do it consistently.

Know grammar rules. Try to learn a new one every week. Here are a few just to break it down:

     -Capitalize the first letter of every sentence, the proper name of someone and, only when referring to them in dialogue, Mom and Dad. Otherwise, 'my mom and dad' stays lowercased.
     -Repeat after me: COMMAS ARE NOT PAUSES. Do not inject them into sentences because you need a mental pause.
     -Never EVER separate the subject and the verb of a sentence by a comma. You can, though, separate them with non-essential clauses, which are always set off by commas: 'Jack, who never liked fishing, dreaded the annual trip with his dad.
     -Put a comma before the word ‘but.’ Always. Just do it.
     -Finally, properly used commas are like good editors: When you use them, you won’t even notice they’re there. That’s the way they should be – unobtrusive yet completely fulfilling their roles as punctuation marks.

Make sure your lists are concise, necessary and properly formed. One of the biggest issues I see with writers is that they don't understand the rules of lists. You can only group 'like' things: nouns go with nouns; verbs go with verbs.
     Example: For breakfast, I ate eggs, ham, and toasted a bagel. WRONG-O.
You should be able to take each individual item and refer it back to the start of the sentence: I ate eggs. I ate ham. I ate toasted a bagel. See how that doesn't work? When you're writing a list – even one with only two items – make sure everything matches up.

Be concise. If you can say something in fewer words, you should.

Show off your talent with your writing, not your words. I very recently gave this advice to someone. Writers often get caught up in the romance of writing. We all know it’s very exciting, but you don’t have to use huge, flowery words and descriptions to explain something that, in its essence, is simple. I call this ‘literary writing’ – and it’s a NO NO. You should be trying to impress us with the quality of the story, not the words you use to tell it.

Hopefully this was helpful  :) I think I might make this a weekly thing, where I share some of my previous week's finds with you all! Please feel free to add your own, offer up ideas I may have missed or even ask me a question. I really, REALLY love helping. If you'd rather, you can email me straight at amplante@gmail.com and I'll answer it offline.


  1. Hi Amber - great post. Thanks for that! I could really do with a copy editor like you : )

    How much easier my life would be!

  2. Amber-- okay, now I am totally intimidated by your editing prowess! But seriously, this is a great post--I am bookmarking it. I like what you said about not using big words just for the sake of sounding literary. I've heard that when writing, unless your MC is a professor, use the vocabulary that you already know--only use a thesaurus unless absolutely necessary. :)

  3. I'll admit it. I'm the anti-Amber. I'm TERRIBLE at all the things you are so good at. I have serious comma-usage envy. So glad you are here to put me to rights ;)

  4. Um, this was SUPER helpful. I love a harsh grammar-correcting voice. When a beta corrects some stupid mistake I consistently make (my lates genius move has been incorrect dialogue tag punctuation) I am mortified, changed forever, and I honestly feel my writing becomes leaps and bounds better. Instantly.

    Thank you!

  5. Hello, ladies! Thanks so much for commenting :) If you have specific questions about something, please email them to me – amplante@gmail.com – maybe I could use them for another post on 'Grammar mistakes to avoid' :)


Thank you in advance :)