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Angie’s Magic 7

My first inclination after attempting my first pass on “first wave” edits as a professional is to say the the immortal words, “Well, shit.”

I can’t tell you what an odd experience it is to think one day, “It shouldn’t be too bad.” and the next be rubbing your eyeball into your head and reminding yourself that ego is a bad, bad thing.

Mind you, I am a whiner by profession. I was born whining, I’ll probably die whining. It makes me happy. It completes me. But, that aside, anyone who walks into publishing is in for a rude awakening, no matter how clean they write. Think you write tight? You’re going to learn to write tighter after first rounds of edits, I guarantee it. You will be faster, leaner, smarter. You, my friend, will have to become the Bionic-freaking-Woman. And do you know why? Because you’re not going to want to feel this stupid ever again.

I have a nice editor. She sent my formatted ms to me with a lovely letter introducing me to the things I would be wise to revise prior to her next read through. This sheet is gold. It’s glorious. It is the KY you need so that when you get reamed, it doesn’t hurt as bad as it could. And believe me, you didn’t know your ego could hurt as bad as it will.

Repeated words. I have a fairly strict rule of thumb–do not repeat a word more than once on a page if if can be avoided. I thought it was a smart rule. It’s not smart enough. It turns out that I’m heinously addicted to connective words like “so” and “that”. Check my veins, man, because I’ve been mainlining them. It took three days to weed 80% of them out. THREE. I’m going to flinch every time I even hear a “so” or a “that” in the future, I know it.

I feel stupid. How did I not see these? Am I so in love with my work that I can’t see how fat it is? Oh, the whining! The whimpering! We’re talking Oscar calibre performances here (to the dismay of husband and son). It’s my opinion that one is allowed to whine if one is doing the work expeditiously. I locked myself in my room and passionately attacked my laptop. Finally, the repeated words were gone. Hallelujah. Sure, there was enough red-strikethrough to make the pages neigh unreadable, but that’s not a crime. (It just looks like one.) And now, this newbie is shaking in her boots at the next bit of editing on her first round plate: The Readthrough.

Shiver, young writers. Tremble in fear at the harrowing journey of “The Readthrough”! Or…take these tips from my editor’s sheet and learn to incorporate them into your writing now so you have less of a red inkbath later:

The Magic Seven:

1) Avoid the Hard Tab. All right. I admit, I’m old school. I learned to type on a manual typewriter. I still miss the “ding” at the end of a sentence. And I despise Word with the heat of a thousand suns so it never occurred to me that hitting my tab button manually might be a problem. Use the auto-tab setting (if you’re a dinosaur like me, that is, who shut it off long ago.).

2) Look for your Garbage Words and Phrases. Those evil little buggers that slip in while you weren’t looking. The simple ones, Just, Really and Even shouldn’t be too hard to eradicate. So, That, Then are the more sneaky ones, but after that, you’ve got to be on your game. Look at your action beats. Check out your dialogue. Look for anything that you’ve said on the page, in the scene, even in the chapter. How often does she run her hand through her hair? How often do their eyes narrow in annoyance? It’s the time for self-reflection. Reflect hard.

3) Look for Wandering Body Parts. Eyes searching the rooms while their owners might well by getting some punch. Count those gripping hands in love scenes. Make sure your characters aren’t doing too many things at the same time.

4) Sentence Structure: Make sure you use more than two types in your writing. Also, make sure your characters can actually DO what they’re doing while they’re doing something else. Big Clue: If you have several words that end in -ing in the same sentence, you might either need to break it up or ask yourself if your character is an octopus.

5) Watch your pronouns. If you have more than one he or she, take the risk of saying a name too many times in either explication or dialogue. It’s the lesser evil of confusing your reader with two different “he”s in one sentence.

6) Redundancy in general. For dialogue, let your words do the talking and avoid telling with the tag. Also, as before, voices can be wandering too. Make sure you attribute the emotion to the person, not the voice. For action, remember not to underline the obvious. When you shrug, unless you’re particularly gifted, you’re going to shrug your shoulders. So just say you shrugged and be done with it. When you think, ain’t no one else listening, no need to explain with “to himself”. You don’t have to stand “up”. Just stand. Check for these, you’ll be surprised how often they get past you. All directions work the same way. If you can take the direction out of the sentence and it still makes sense, be a rebel–take it out.

7) Coulds. You COULD take them out, but you haven’t yet. See how many you can drop like hot potatoes.

Now, I’m still doing these, but I’m going to print them out and glue them to my desk so I never forget them. With any luck, they will sink into my dense little brain. Hope they help you too!

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