The Joys of Editing, (for masochists only).

I am currently editing my manuscript. This is the boring, non artistic phase where I am removing as many instances of the word ‘but’ as I can. One or two can remain, if they are necessary. Next I will remove all (or nearly all) instances of ‘if’. This will strengthen the text by making it less ‘equivocal’ and less ‘apologetic’. Next I will remove — where ever possible — the pluperfect tense by deleting all instances of ‘have’ or ‘had’ that I can. I do this, incidentally, by using ‘find and replace’. When I have finished, I will read through again and I may put some back, if unavoidable. Editing’s a bitch.

There are, incidentally, in this 20,000 word extract I am currently editing, around 150 ‘buts’ — too many. I shall follow on after ‘but’; ‘if’, ‘have’, and ‘had’ with ‘seem’. I know, you see, that these are all words that I tend to lard my speech — and consequently my writing — with. Another word in my ‘hit list’ is ‘actually’. There are others, like ‘however’ and phrases like ‘by the way’ and so on. Find and replace is a boon to writers and editors.

But is it actually necessary? Well, yes. Because when writing one develops habits. These habits can be annoying to a reader. They constitute one of the many ‘stops’ that prevent readers — I include editors in this category — from turning the first page. The list is almost never ending. To it I can add, ‘colons’; ‘semicolons’, ‘inverted commas’; ‘italics’; ‘conjunctives’; ‘parentheses’, ‘hyphens’; ‘abbreviations’; etc..

A few of each of these can help with clarity, it is true. An occasional one can help with characterisation. More than a few and they become annoying mannerisms.


About Zoe Nightingale

I am a writer of short stories, novels, poetry and non fiction.
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