(October 2017) WRITING WEDNESDAY: Self-editing 101. I write fast; therefore, I make my share of mistakes. The more ambitious the topic, the more opportunities to go down the wrong path, make syntax errors, etc. Sometimes elements of your personality come out in writing. If you tend to be long-winded in general (be honest), your writing probably needs to be trimmed. For myself, I sometimes don’t want to make declarative statements unless I have ALL the facts — so here comes passive voice, not attractive on the page. I am working on a project that doesn’t have layers of copyeditors. (Luckily there’s not much text, either.) Being more and more aware of my writing weaknesses, I’ve taken out my brutal editing pen and attacked my copy as best as can to make it better.
1) When you can, read your text out loud. If you are writing something that is hundreds of pages, this may not be possible. But if you can identify a handful of pages that seem problematic, read it loud. You can do this with pages you like . . . it will help you with the flow of the difficult pages or may illuminate that your love for them is more of a misplaced infatuation.
2) Identify your weaknesses. This is sometimes not possible without some experience with a professional copyeditor. I know what some of mine are. First, passive voice in nonfiction. Second, misused prepositions. I make all sorts of excuses for it — Japanese is actually my first language and the one that was widely used at home when I was young. The use of prepositions in the Japanese language is very idiosyncratic. But even more importantly, American English use of prepositions is also very arbitrary. Jerry Seinfeld’s new stand-up routine focuses of the peculiar use of “on” and “in” in regular speech. (And yes, I feel vindicated.) So when I encounter some prepositional phrase that seems awkward, I Google. The most votes win.
3) Some issues are more related to style than grammar. So find out style rules from your publication. Most print outlets use Chicago Manual of Style and you can find some of their rules on their online website. (For wide access, you’ll have to pay.) When I recently searched whether to hyphenate “man-made,” I came across a comment on CMS that “man-made” is considered to be sexist language and should be avoided. Whether you agree with that perspective or not, it’s informative to know that some people think that. If you are writing for a large audience, why alienate someone?
Sometimes this level of line editing is painful, but it’s all in service of the end product. It’s like your eyebrows being plucked, your nose hairs getting trimmed, your hair being highlighted (purple, even!). You are just cleaning up the surface for the real you and the real story.