Search and Destroy in the Editing Phase

Daily Writing Tips recently had an article explaining bad writing compared to poor writing.  The one part of the article that struck me was the end.

They presented a list which I will admit (giving them total credit) that I copied and pasted below.  I only want to talk about #5, but I am including the entire list, because I think there are a lot of writers out there who can benefit from it.

Here we go:  Total credit to (If you want to see the whole article, the link is below)


Here are some tips on avoiding the pitfalls of bad writing:

1. Be Fresh
The purpose of metaphor and simile is to evoke recognition by comparison or allusion. Write these analogies to aid your readers with your clarity of vision, not to serve your ego, and avoid clichés.

2. Be Clear
When drafting expository fiction or nonfiction, record your voice as you spontaneously describe a scene or explain a procedure, transcribe your comments, and base your writing on the transcription, revising only to select more vivid verbs and more precise nouns and to seek moderation in adverbs and adjectives.

3. Be Active
Use the passive voice judiciously.

4. Be Concise
Write tight.

5. Be Thorough
Accept that writing is the easy part; it’s the revision that makes or breaks your project — and requires most of your effort.


Okay then… end credit to daily writing tips.

(On a side note:  If anyone needs clarification on anything in the list above, let me know and I will do my best to translate.)

Let’s talk about #5.

This is near and dear to my heart, as I have just finished a roller-coaster ride self-imposed deadline of 5,000 words a week to finish a novel in 10 weeks.

I finished my first draft four weeks ahead of schedule, and dropped myself into editing.

Is my story great?  Well, of course it is! It’s my idea and I love it.

Is it well written…

Umm well, it will be.

Now is the tough part.  I need to attack all the sneaky “tell” that slipped in when I wasn’t looking.  I need to describe bronzed skin rather than telling “his skin was bronzed.”

Luckily enough, I have many words to spare, as I ended up short on my word-count target.  I have plenty of room to expand.

Right now, it is “search and destroy” on “Felt” “was” “it” and all those other nasty little tell markers.

I was paying attention this time around, and I tried my best not to have blatant run-on tell passages (as I’ve been guilty of in the past)  which is good, but all of my tell is now “subtle”.  It is the kind that will probably slip past most publishers.  But I don’t just want this to be a good novel.  I want it to be a great one.

Yes, it is this revision process that will make or break this novel.

I am approaching it by not reading for flow yet.  I am just looking for all those “little nasties”.  Once I think I am “nasty free” I will read for flow, and then ship off to betas, trusting them to slap me upside the head for everything else I may have missed.

How do you “search and destroy” during the editing phase?


33 responses to “Search and Destroy in the Editing Phase

  1. I like your approach to editing! I think it’s a good idea to focus on flow after all the “little nasties” are taken care of.

    I guess I really have no set way that I edit. I just go over the story again and fix everything as I go – from spelling and grammar errors to re-writing whole scenes. I just can’t help myself. 🙂

  2. I love editing, almost too much. I find myself getting swept back into the story when I edit. This is not a bad thing, obviously because it means that I love the story I wrote (which is enormously important). However, it means that I take twice as long with the editing process. I tend to rebuild entire scenes instead of keeping it clinical.

  3. I find editing really tricky so at the moment there is a check list I go through to help me catch things:
    Adverbs (or ‘ly’ words as my writing group calls them)
    Passive voice

    This will be the first time I edit using that list so it may need ordering or adding to, but knowing what I’m looking for will really help my writing before hand (and editing afterwards).

  4. Words that I tend to use over and over again, like over 🙂 I seek those out and destroy them. I can be repetitive so I single those out and blast them.

  5. Watch out for the “was being…” “has been ….” etc. And the split infinitives. Oh, and ending sentences with prepositions. And who vs whom. ;P

    I used to direct plays, so I try to imagine the “action” and “settings” as if they are happening in front of me. When directing, sure, I have a story to tell and points I want to make, but I present them to the audience for their own experience… and trust the audience to keep up. (Yikes!) Present your evidence, using as few words as possible (make those words *earn* their right to be there!), and allow your reader to experience first hand the story…

    As you said, rather than “bronzed,” what does “bronzed” look like to you? I know what it means to me – but it could be totally different to you. I get that once a work is Out There it begins to take on its own life and identity, but I’m a pretty big supporter of the author’s making her intentions and opinions as clear as possible by precision. Sometimes I reread Joyce, Conrad, Austin, Hemingway, etc, as examples.

  6. I am so guilty of #5. Once it is written, I read it over a few times, finding things I missed at first, and once I feel happy that I cannot improve on it any longer, I send it out. I have to accept just how important this part is and learn patience.

  7. I can read a manuscript a thousand times, even after it’s been critiqued by the Writer’s Group a few times, and I will still find a sentence or two that I will rearrange and adjust or replace the odd word with something I consider better. It does get to be a loop, like you say, and finally I decide to let it fly. 🙂

  8. Nice post. I’ve been reading about revision, not an easy task. Revising I mean, not reading. hehehe

  9. Perfectionist here too. I have this nasty habit of (sometimes but not always) revising and editing on the run, as I write. I’ll write a single sentence or a paragraph and read it over and over, changing it every time until I’m happy with it. Then I’ll move on to the next one. Very bad and I’m very conscious of it. I will still re-read the whole thing once I’ve finished or the next day and I am still surprised when I when I find something wrong with it. Likely evidence that the editing on the run is waste of time.
    Either way, I’ll look for repeated words or phrases, too many I’s, that’s, was’s, etc. consistency, flow, continuity, pace. And I’m not convinced I catch everything. 😉

  10. I spotted some “tell” in your story and I was like 0_o Jennifer is human!

    Editing is painful… and slow and horrible and… but GOSH! What an awesome feeling at the end when you feel like you’re one step closer to achieving your goal.

  11. I really like tip #2….

  12. Re-reading, editing and adding is something all writers must endure. Leonardo da Vinci said ‘Art is never finished, only abandoned’ Meaning there is always something to add.
    Hope you’ll get the courage to abandon your work, after you are confident that it’ll do well when it’s out in the world.

  13. I have a list of words that I know I overuse (just, a fair bit of, seems to) so I go through looking for specific words that I tend to use too liberally :p

  14. One word at a time! … painfully.

    Whenever I finish a first draft. I use the ‘find’ option and seek out ‘was’ ‘is’ ‘were’ ‘are’, and words ending in ‘ly’ … and any of my pet words that tend to tumble into the story every page or so.

    I might keep some of ’em. I might keep most of ’em. But I make a conscious decision about every one of them.

  15. Julie Catherine

    Jennifer, I’m a perfectionist, too, so editing (many times) is almost second nature to me. One of my edit phases always includes reading sentence by sentence, starting from the end and going right back to the beginning – it’s amazing how many errors you catch that way! When you ‘read in reverse’ you really have to pay attention to what is actually there, not what your mind naturally tends to read. Sure, it takes a lot longer to edit that way, but it’s time very well spent! 🙂

    • Wow. That might work on poetry. But a novel? I can’t even imagine!

      • Julie Catherine

        Yes, Jennifer, in a novel … lol. I edited a full length fantasy novel a few years ago for the writer friend I’ll be rooming with when I move to BC in October. Just take it chapter by chapter – from the end of the book back to the beginning, and it works to find all kinds of icky stuff! When the book was released, his mother read it (she’s a real stickler for finding things everyone else missed!) … she found 1 “change of tense” word in the entire book, and that was all! (Dang it, how did I miss that one! LOL!)

  16. Since a lot of the manuscripts I’ve edited and revised were written so long ago (then held hostage on obsolete file formats on discs for like a decade), it’s been easier for me to go through this phase. After the joy and relief of finally having access to these manuscripts again (after the arduous process of conversion and reformatting), you can find a lot of old garbage and things that just don’t fit with who these characters became in the years since. (Some of these manuscripts were transcribed from handwritten originals or written over longer periods of time, so they’re not all merely 10-11 years old.)

    I had a lot of fun doing all the edits, rewrites, and revisions on my superlong Russian novel, and each time focused on something a little different. The first few edits, I mostly was junking garbage from the original sections of the earliest chapters (written when I was all of 13 years old). Later on, it moved to things like making the characters consistent, adding more emotional reactions, having people do things every so often during dialogue instead of just being talking heads, using less words to say something, etc.

    • I always have the challenge of talking heads. Placing the art in writing is the hard part. I abbé a few novels on 3.5 inch floppies, too. I need to reformat them from LEWP processing. How did you reformat?

      • I wrote my files in MacWriteII and ClarisWorks, and finally ended up opening them through Word. There’s usually some gibberish characters at the beginning and end, and sometimes scattered through the middle, but most of the text was relatively good.

        The ClarisWorks files were a lot easier to reformat, but the older MacWriteII files (particularly the ones originally created on my family’s ’84 Mac) had a lot of floating, misplaced text blocks and repeated lines. I had to go through and copy and paste things back where they belonged, sometimes aided through handwritten first drafts. There’s a program that converts Mac files while retaining the formatting, but at the moment it’s out of print.

        • Ugh. LEWP comes out as 100% gobbleygook. I had to open it and save it in wordpad. I have them saved that way, and then I will need to cut and paste into word and get rin of the ,,,,,,—-00000….. at the end of EVERY line. Not looking forward to it.

  17. Jennifer,
    Hey, long time no blog comment 🙂 At least on my end. I am a perfectionist when it comes to editing. That’s good and bad. Finding that magic line in the middle of good writing and revising it a million times to still have good writing seems to be my biggest challenge!