Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ask the Editors – Self Editing, Part Three

Bookmark and Share
Dear Editors-

“I think one of the hardest things to do is self-editing. Invariably, no matter how hard you try, there is always something you overlook or miss. What is your advice on how to get the most out of self-editing? What are the most important things a writer should look for when they edit?”

Christine Verstraete, author, Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery


This is the third post in a four-part series. To read the previous posts, either scroll down (they are posted in succession below) or click on Second and First.

Today’s Lesson:

1. Get rid of weak, qualifying words and phrases.

You’ve already searched and destroyed those dreaded words ending in “ly,” but other words can weaken your prose. They don’t appear as adverbs or adjectives, but they function the same. Seek out and eliminate these words:

Almost, less, seldom, even, always, maybe, soon, more, perhaps, then, very, far, never, today, well, sometimes, just, perhaps

Next, search for and rewrite or eliminate worn-out “turning phrases” like these:

Of course, nevertheless, for example, in fact, however, seemingly, in spite of, besides which

These short lists contain the most overused and abused. Others exist, but this is a good start.

2. Eliminate all clichés.

Clichés are boring, plagiarized bits of wisdom expressed in a set formula. You are a writer. Show us your creativity, amaze us! When you write your first draft and a cliché seems to fit and no better phrase comes to mind, go ahead and key it in. But when you go back to self-edit, use clichés as opportunities to shine. Rewrite with originality and in keeping with your style and your story. Where you might have written, “My whole world was turned upside down,” you might rewrite, and for this example let’s say you are writing a sci-fi, “My entire universe got sucked into a black hole.”


Article written and submitted by Marvin D Wilson, author,
I Romanced the Stone,
Owen Fiddler, and Between the Storm and the Rainbow.
Marvin is an editor with
All things That Matter Press and does freelance editing.
He maintains two popular blogs at
Free Spirit and Tie Dyed Tirades.


  1. Excellent tips. I must take them to heart. One of the most frustrating aspects of self-editing is that you can never get it perfect. I can read something twenty times and still not see the flaw, and then years later spot it after the piece has been exposed to all gazes.

  2. I think you spot things years later because 1) time has elapsed and you can look at it with a fresh eye and 2) you've grown as a writer over those years.

    Thanks for all these great tips, Marvin.

  3. It's hard not to write in cliches because those are the first things that come to mind. We have to go for the third or fourth things we can think of instead.

    Morgan Mandel


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook