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10 Lies You Might Tell Yourself While Editing

Completing any manuscript is a Herculean task. The icing on the cake (which has somewhat bitter tang) is that you're not done yet. No, not by a long shot. must edit. You must edit with purpose and without emotional attachment.

But before you head bravely into that good night, lighten your mood with these ten half-truths (lies is such an ugly word) with which I've had more than a nodding acquaintance.  Please note, I am not referring to professional editing, but to the labour of love - I had to say that - that every writer must complete at some point in their manuscript's development. I will admit to trying to sell myself on many of these; I will not admit to my success rate. I will also not admit the number of editing purges, er, passes,  some of my manuscripts have needed. I have enough pain.

I hope you enjoy these.

10. The front door changing colour half way through your manuscript is obviously symbolic.

9.  This same symbolism seems to be at work with the colour of your protagonist's hair. Or she secretly dyed it. More symbolism. You're so literary!

8. The three afternoons on one Wednesday explains why Wednesday seemed so long when you wrote that earlier draft. Problem solved.

7. Your protagonist's best friend who you thought was funny and wise, is somehow now coming across as snide and self-absorbed. You've written multi-layered characters. Well done. See #9.

6. Every character expresses surprise in the same way. You obviously wrote this to demonstrate that we're all the same inside.

5. The sagging of pace in the middle is compensated by the rushing of the ending. You're good.

4. You can't have too many "that"s. Or "just"s. Or...

3. No one will notice the giant plot hole. You didn't notice it when you were writing it.

2. The extreme coincidence which helps your protagonist leap to the necessary conclusion in order for your plot to wrap up could happen. It could.

                             It could, it could, it could.

1. Your next editing pass will be easier.

Elspeth Futcher is a bestselling author of murder mystery games and playwright. She has been the top selling author at since 2011. Her British games are published by Red Herring Games in the UK. Her latest game is The Great British Bump Off. Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.


  1. This was soo funny. I'll keep this brief and say my manuscript needs many, many "that"s, "just"s and the like cut. As I write them, however, they seem so ... right (wrong!).

    I'd like to think I'm learning and slowly writing less pointless fillers.

  2. Love this, Elspeth. Of course I am an editor, and sensitized to the overuse of words such as:
    1. just
    2. that
    3. even
    As are my advance readers, who perceived no evidence of overuse syndrome.

    Yet in order to boil my ms down to the final word count my agent desired, I did a mad, final dash targeting these three words, removing only instances where they weren't strictly necessary—and took out a whopping 1,000 instances.

    Amazing what evils can lurk half hidden amongst 85,000+ neighbors.

  3. Very funny! I tend to use a lot of 'just' and 'that' and 'thing.'
    And it is funny what becomes obvious when you start the edit about a month later. I like to let my stories simmer for a while and find loads of mistakes the second time (and third time and fourth time) through.

  4. These were really funny! You're the best, Elspeth.

  5. I'm nodding with all of this.
    Becuase it's TRUE.

  6. Sheeesh ... this made me take a hard look at my latest manuscript ... now it's a paragraph.

  7. ROFL as my son would write.

    #11. The fact that a character introduced by one name is later referred to by another will go unnoticed.

    Well, that one turned out to be true in the instance of a book out for over a year with thousands of copies in print. Very, very embarrassing. I should have caught that one, my editor should have caught that one, the first reader should...

    --Larry Constantine (Lior Samson)

  8. What plot hole? You mean the one I just fell into? LOL Thanks for the chuckle.

  9. Wonderful, I'm still giggling! When I use 'Find' to highlight 'that', my page frequently lights up like a Christmas tree!

  10. I end up cutting just enough justs to just make it under the radar, justly.

    Cute blog entry! But most people who need to read this won't notice they flubbed this stuff, at all. They've gone blind to things like hair color, etc.

  11. Rebecca; Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed my post. I now have a 'just alarm' and a 'that' siren which sound as I write. Not literally. I think.

    Kathryn; Thanks for sharing that even professional editors don't write perfect manuscripts! I now have hope.

    Karen; Waiting is crucial. I think it also gives you a better chance at emotional distance.

    Clarissa; Aw, thanks! I *love* your blog too - please know I am a constant visitor even though I seldom comment.

    December; Comedy is always funnier if it's based in reality. Or personal pain. Whatever works.

    Christopher; On the plus side, you can now say you've written a short story.

    Larry; I feel your pain. I do. I won't say why, but I do.

    Maryann; I'm sure you'll find your way out with no problem.

    Paula; Isn't it pretty? Hum a Christmas carol, it will add to the festive mood.

    Leslea; LOL!

  12. Ha! Loved this post. I won't admit to how many of these I succumb to, but I love number one. :)

    And you're right, no one will notice the hundreds of times I use Just, even, that and (gasp!) gasped. :)

    Great post,
    Michelle :)

  13. HAHA! I needed the laugh. Thank you!

    I'm currently going through editing pains, so this is just what I needed to "lighten it up."

    Anna Soliveres

  14. Ah, Elspeth, you've lightened the loads of self-editing and revision - definite needs among us writers because our loads are heavy and our work sometimes less than fun. Thank you for a morning smile.

  15. Michelle; I think the actual number of editing passes should be treated the same way as we treat the number of our actual weight. If it's good, we shout it from the roof tops. If it's bad, we don't speak of it and only we know what we consider a 'good' or 'bad' number.

    Anna; I hope I lightened the load for a minute or two. Good luck!

    Linda; You're welcome! Thank you for taking the time to let me know you enjoyed it.

  16. Great post--love this! It's funny and makes me feel kind of sheepish when I do a search on frequently used words like "oh" and "just" or whatever the flavor of the month is! (This is after telling my clients not to overuse all these words!)

  17. Number three made me laugh out loud. Great post!

  18. Dang it. I keep falling for number one.

  19. Add the word 'now' to that list of no-no's and there you have it, take all four and it's amazing how my word count plummets!
    The name change? yep, I worked for two years on a story and halfway through change the heroses name - twice - I'm still not sure if i caught all those changes in my final runthrough!
    Thanks for the laugh, and reminder.

  20. I love number three. Just so true!

  21. Thank you for this. It's high time I started laughing at my million passes at this ms! Loved the lines about symbolism and multiple-layered characters, since so many of my fictional peeps are waaaaaay too complex and "witty" for their own good as their many meandering conversations tumble down my plot hole. My latest defense in my struggle to write a tight plot is, I woulda been great at writing for HBO (justifying the episodic, unresolved nature of my storyline). I'll be back for more comic relief!


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