Now a literary agent at WordServe Literary, Barbara J. Scott has been a book editor for 13+ years and has more than 30 years of publishing experience, ranging from newspapers and magazines to books. The fiction line at Abingdon Press exceeded all sales expectations, and Barbara has been credited for kicking off a well-rounded series of quality, highly-reviewed novels. Among her many published works, Barbara is the co-author of best-selling novel Sedona Storm, as well as the sequel Secrets of the Gathering Darkness, both published by Thomas. Nelson.
Over the years I’ve harped at authors never, ever to turn in a first draft. Some writers think the editor’s job is to spiff up their grammar, correct misspelled words, change passive voice to active, eliminate repeated words and phrases, or do laser surgery on their mixed metaphors.
Word travels in publishing circles about whether you’re a professional or you’ve made your living on the backs of good editors. You don’t want to be known as a hack writer.
Hopefully, the electronic tool known as search and find will make your self-editing chore more enjoyable.
1. Passive voice (one of my pet peeves): Passive voice is created by using a form of be, such as am, is, are, was, were, being, be, or been and followed by the past participle of the main verb, or gerunds comprised of a present participle (ending in “ing”) that functions as a noun. Learn more in Hacker’s Rules for Writers. Search for these words and recast your sentences to make them more active. Examples:
Passive: He was jumping over the cliff into the river below to escape.
Active: He jumped over the cliff into the river below to escape.
2. Qualifiers: These words clutter up your writing. Sometimes I think writers use them to boost their word counts. Examples: begin, start, started to, almost, decided to, planned to, a little bit, almost, etc. Examples:
With qualifier: Mary felt a little bit out of place among the nouveau riche.
Better: Mary felt out of place among the nouveau riche.
3. Weasel Words: These words are easy to spot. You can drop them and no one will notice. My high school English teacher told me that if you could replace the word very with the word damn, you didn’t need it. Other examples: really, well, so, a lot of, anyway, just, oh, suddenly, immediately, kind of, extremely, etc. I’m sure you can come up with your favorites.
With weasel words: Suddenly, she stood up and said, “Oh well, let’s retire to the drawing room and just stay out of his way.”
Better: She stood and said, “Let’s retire to the drawing room and stay out of his way.”
4.Adverbs: I don’t hate adverbs, but they “usually” are unnecessary, especially in dialogue tags. Your prose should communicate a character’s state of mind without using a tag line such as the example below. Use search and find to look for an ly followed by a space or a period.
With adverb: “I’ll kill him,” she said ferociously. (Really?)
Better: “I’ll kill him,” she said.
5. Extraneous thats or thens: Use the global search-and-find feature for the word that. If you can understand the sentence without it, you don’t need it. You notice I didn’t write, then you don’t need it. Both of these words are over used.
Writing is rewriting, and rewriting involves self-editing. It’s your job to turn in the cleanest manuscript possible to your agent or editor. Use the search-and-find tool to speed up the process.
Can you think of other ways you can employ the search-and-find feature in Word to edit your work?