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The 5 Editing Checks You Must Make

This morning I received a digest from one of my LinkedIn Groups. I opened it and noted the first discussion topic:

Excellent article about costumers and business owners in social media relationships.

I didn’t read the article, although really I should have. Except during the weeks leading up to Halloween, I wouldn’t think business owners would have that much need for costumers.

But apparently business owners not only need costumers, their relationship extends to social media—where presumably you could draw attention with a pic of your masquerading self.

Then again, maybe what business owners really need are editors.

During a recent blog post on writing fast, I waxed poetic and prosaic about how to get words on the page fast. Don’t try to be a good writer! Don’t research! Don’t look for the just-right word! Write, write, write now and edit later.

But once you’re done throwing words at the page, the time comes to edit. So what do you look for? How do you shine up your words?

Earlier this week, while editing an Independence Day eNewsletter I’d typed at deadline speed, I hit on my Fab 5 Editing Checks:

1)      Prepositions: Hey, what would we do without these little charmers? They send our writing above and beyond the usual morass. But often, they’re also unnecessary. The chief offender: of.

Generally when of shows up, you can flip the phrase and create a more crisp and compact one. Sure, sometimes we use of for emphasis—Fourth of July, Freedom of Speech, Marquis de Sade (the French of). But is scenes of America really better than American scenes? Unless you’re creating parallel structure, probably not. I made the switch.

2)      Gerunds: Speaking of switches, I generally change up the gerunds too. Gerunds are not only dangling ings, they’re schizophrenic. We form gerunds from a verb, but they act like nouns. You know: reading, writing, editing.

Usually you can create a stronger construction with a quick snip of the ing. So while firing up the grill, hoisting the flag and lighting the sky with fireworks became while you fire up the grill, hoist the flag and light the sky with fireworks. Cleaner and just as patriotic.

3)      Homonyms: When it comes to homonyms, patriotism (or Americanism) may be part of the problem. I’ll get to that in a moment. For now, I’ll just confess that I’ve struggled more with homonyms in the past year than in the preceding 20. The 7th Grade Spelling Bee Champion now types phonetically.

So I get bare when I want bear, heal when I want heel and sailing in grease, which is far different than sailing in Greece.  I’m grateful to Bill Gates and the Spelling & Grammar function in Microsoft Word, which alerts me to my malady. Still be on the lookout for their, there and they’re, it’s and its, capital and Capitol, and to, too and two.

(Oddly enough, I don’t think Brits have this problem—in their world, the words Mary, merry and marry have three distinct pronunciations. This may explain why I never wed my Scottish fiancé, unable as I was to correctly pronounce how to become man and wife. Somehow the words ring and wring enter into the explanation as well.)

4)      Long sentences:  Continuing with our marriage theme, it’s odd that cleave means both join together and split apart. But if you find too many of your words have cleaved together—happily or not—you’re probably smart to demand a divorce. Which is what I did with the following lazy sentence:

That’s why we developed the Summer Nights eNewsletter to share the ways we enjoy the warm weather, kicking back with family, friends, music and movies.

The sentence begs for a dash, a period, a cohesive thought. If you find you’ve run on, you might try cleaving your sentence to produce two much more satisfactory halves. Or thirds.

5)      Transitions: Did you notice how smoothly we moved from the challenges of marrying a Scot to the need to cleave cleaved sentences? The ability to move gracefully from one topic to the next is the hallmark of a good writer. And it can be as simple as repeating a single word:

“We’ll check in every week to suggest new ways you can ratchet up the summer fun.

And what better way to start than by celebrating the 4th of July with our Patriotic Playlist.”

 

So exactly how do I edit?  I begin on-screen, making the easy fixes and highlighting the tough ones. Once I’ve addressed most of the problems I see there, I print out the doc and start again.

Funny how many new problems crop up in the hard copy. Despite my careful review, I usually spend just as much time on the print go-round. But once I’ve finished, I can just about guarantee happy costumers, er, customers.

PS—I also charge nothing to look at my words in layout after the art director has done his magic. Sometimes a few small edits at this point make a startling difference in how well the piece works.