Friday, August 3, 2012

Editing for Modern Writers

I think most people know what writing looks like--an author stares into space, mutters/gestures, and types. But when the first draft is over, the editing begins. This is what editing is like. At least, this is what it's like for me. So if you’d like to look over my shoulder, here’s Editing 101.

Text:  “My heart pounded.”

Me: Ugh. Cliché. This needs to be deleted entirely. Oh, wait, I can’t. It’s a physiologic response to time travel. Some reader will remember this from book one and email me if I leave it out.

Text (unchanged): “My heart pounded.”

Me: Okay. Let’s expand it. This is a pivotal moment and a chapter ending. So I should stretch the sentence, make the reader linger over the sentence to give it gravitas. I should…add a simile.

Text: “My heart pounded like….”

Me: Like a what? A drum—cliché. A kettle drum—synonym cliché. Delete “like.” Let’s try a physical cue.

Text: “My heart pounded so fast it burned for oxygen.”

Me: Do people know that if your heart beats too fast, you get chest pain because it beats less efficiently? Better yet, would my main character know this? His dad’s a doctor…would they discuss this over dinner? No. His dad is a psychiatrist. More likely they’d discuss projection responses—and my MC would zone out anyway.

Text: “My heart…”

Me: Try a synonym for “pounded.”

Text: “My heart hammered/thumped/thrashed/beat.”

Me: YUCK! Time to clear my mind, feeling emptiness, listening to nothing, and waiting for the muse….clearly, the muse has been booked by other writers.

Text: “My heart…”

Me (Time for a new approach): I imagine my heart beating painfully fast in my chest, hoping that reverse biofeedback doesn’t work. I feel the pressure in my chest. The tingling in my fingers. The roar of blood in my ears. “My heart…nothing…

Me: At this point, if I were Hemingway or Fitzgerald, I’d down a shot of bourbon. But I’m not...Instead, I click a link to see if any of my friends have posted on Facebook.


  1. When I hit snags like this, I often pull out paper and freewrite. I might fill a whole page until the right words come. A thesaurus is a good place to start, then I let my imagination run.

    The nice thing is, sometimes I come up with four our five great alternatives to the cliche that can be worked into the manuscript. So it's not as inefficient as you might think.

  2. LOL!! You can definitely see why writers drink!

  3. This is hilarious. Good ideas to help you when you're editing. When I edit, I read the blogs I follow and then get back to it.

  4. Yeah, it's so hard to avoid the cliche, especially for these universal kinds of reactions to things. I'd get up for some chocolate or boba by the end of this, lol.

    Btw, we were indeed watching the Olympics. :)

  5. Hahahaha I know what you mean. I usually leave the phrase alone and hope I hit it the next time I pass over it. :-D

  6. This is too funny. I think for me I like to edit in spurts. I do it until I feel my ideas are more about getting something done rather than changing something for the better.