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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Short on Time but want to edit your WIP?

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I have learned a lot since I started writing a few years back. One is that those of us who work full time, have families, second jobs, and other committments often struggle to write. For me, I enjoy the flow of a good story and it is easier to find time to put words on paper than it is to go back and edit. 

Let me make clear, what follows is not a comprehensive edit. You should have beta readers, content editing all the way down to line editing and proofing if you want your book to find traction with readers. Some of this you can get friends to help do, some you can do yourself, and some simply must be hired out (especially I would argue the final proof needs to be fresh eyes).

What I have here are not comprehensive edits. Rather, they are the "I have an hour but can't really sit down and go deep for another two weeks" edits. It keeps you in the work (though pauses and breaks are great for editing too) but does not involve you keeping every detail of your story fresh and top of mind. What's best? they are all free.

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-1.Check your adverbs
    Adverbs. In a draft they often come quickly (uh... I mean with rapidity). Why say someone walked softly when you can say they tiptoed. Or he ate greedily when you can say he devoured. Or that someone suddenly jumped out of the window when you can just say they jumped. Adverbs have a place and I don't necessarily believe (oops - I don't universally subscribe) that they all should be eliminated like enemy ships in a video game. But English is a beautiful language in part because it has so many excellent words. 

So... her eis the edit task. Go to your word processor and pull up your document. Then go to the FIND ALL function. Type in "ly" "ly" with a space bar after may narrow the results and eliminate words like fly, ply, and lye. Then look at each occurance using whatever time you have. Consider why you used the adverb and if there is a better way to write the sentence. Maybe you knock out a paragraph, a chapter, or half a book. Either way, you will benefit from the edit in your final version.

-2. Scan for passive voice
    This FIND ALL may have more false alerts, but it is still a good use of a short window. FIND ALL words like "be." "has been." or even words like "was." What will come up within the results are your uses of the passive tense. Sometimes the passive tense is okay. It is a great way to keep mystery ("The body was found in the living room" doesn't tell us ho the killer was). However, in general it is a weaker tense. So take a moment to find where you used it. Is there a way to write the sentence in the active voice? Knock out a few sentences to better your novel... rather than the novel was knocked out by you editing.

-3. Polish character ticks, mannerisms, or dialogue
    Do you have a character (this is especially helpful with side characters) who has a particular catchphrase, mannerism, or physical tick? Again, use FIND ALL and search for a key word you used. "Y'all," "tapped knee." "fingers hair." or " you betta." If you have chapters where that character plays a prominent role but no hits it means you may have let your character slip out of character. Or, like me, you may find you allow other characters to adopt things you assigned to only one character. It can be a good character check within a very short amount of time.

-4. Get rid of excessive exclamation marks... and rewrite so you don't need it!!!!
    You don't need them. Maybe if your characters are reading a poster outloud that a second grader made. "Lemonade sale tomorrow!!!!!" Otherwise, use minimally. So, what do you do? Yes, you guessed it. Do a FIND ALL for "!." But don't just delete them and put a period in its place. You chose that punctuation for a reason. In your draft you felt excitement, fear, or energy in the passage and wanted to convey it. Now is your time to craft a better sentence or passage. Take out the exclamation mark and insert words that do the heavy lifting for you. "The dog entered the room snarling!!!" can change to "Everyone spun as the dog snarled. It's normal overbite and cute front teeth sticking out of its lip grew grotesque as other teeth joined in a gesture of hate." Maybe not my best work, but you get the drift.

-5. Scan first two words.
    Take a chapter. Look at the first two to three words in each paragraph. What do you see? "Joe shouted..." "Janie sat..." "Joe got up..." "Janie stuttered" Here you are looking for two things primarily. Obvious signs of head hoping and if you need to change your starts to create a more readable rhythm. Of course, the latter will relate to the book you are writing and the section you are in. It might be a good time to have short, choppy action sentences. However, if every paragraph starts out with a participle phrase you may tire a reader.

-6. Participle search or other copious occurrence.
    Try FIND ALL for "ing." Unlike the exclamation mark where you are seeking out weak writing to create better writing, here you may need to judge case by case. Either way, it may uncover tendencies you have. If I could, this technique can be used for any number of instances. I grew up with an elderly school marm whacking my fingers with a ruler as I pecked away at a typewriter. Therefore, I inevitably double space after sentences. Here I can FIND ALL "  " ("space-space") and use REPLACE ALL to correct the problem.

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