Kelli A. Wilkins
How to Be Your Own Best Editor
This blog is part of a series offering fun and practical advice to fiction writers. The blogs are based on the material in my non-fiction guide to writing, You Can Write—Really! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing Fiction. Whether you write horror, romance, sci-fi, or mysteries, I hope you find the hints helpful.
What is one thing that will set you apart as a professional writer and help you outshine the amateurs? Believe it or not, it’s not the subject of your story, your witty proposal, or even if you’ve been published before—it’s your presentation.
How you present yourself and your writing to editors, agents, and readers speaks volumes about you. People will stop reading if they find misspelled words, missing words, and repeated words. These avoidable errors will flag your writing as unprofessional and sloppy. And it might get your story rejected.
So, how do you make sure your work is ready to go? Be your own best editor! Here are a few tips:
* Always start your story with an interesting hook to capture the reader’s (or editor’s) attention. Begin either 5 minutes before, during, or 5 minutes after “the big moment” that gives the character a problem and draws the reader into the character’s world. Keep the action going in the first few paragraphs.
Don’t waste the first page describing the weather or how a character got dressed in the morning. Jump into the story and take your readers with you. When you hook an editor, you stand a good chance of staying out of the slush pile.
* Read your story out loud and proofread every word on each page. This forces you to slow down and you will notice missing words. If you stumble over a sentence or a phrase, it probably needs to be edited. Stop reading and fix it. Then read the paragraph or sentence again to make sure it sounds right and keep going.
Reading aloud also lets you hear how the piece sounds, and you’ll pick up on words or phrases you overuse. As a rule of thumb, a word or a phrase shouldn’t be repeated more than five times in a novel, and even less in a short story. Use a thesaurus to give you suggestions on similar words and replace them. (For example, “scream” can become: shout, yell, yelp, squeal, cry, etc.)
Also do a search for similarly-spelled words and check that you’re not accidentally using the wrong word. Some to look out for include: they’re, there, their; four, for, fore; to, two, too; here, hear; you’re, your…
* Before submitting your story, get the publication’s submission guidelines from their website and follow them. Every publication is different, and you need to tailor your submission to their requirements, or face automatic rejection.
When you have the guidelines, read them carefully and ask yourself if your story is a good fit for the publication. If the guidelines specifically say “no vampire stories” and your main character has fangs and drinks blood, try somewhere else. If the guidelines state the publication is only accepting stories under 2,000 words and yours is 6,000, try again. Submitting a story where it doesn’t fit, only to have it rejected, wastes your time and may sour the editor on further submissions from you.
I hope you enjoyed these writing tips and find them useful. If you’re interested in learning more about the writing process, check out my non-fiction writing guide, You Can Write—Really! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing Fiction. The book is designed for writers who need a boost of motivation and simple instructions on how to get started. It’s packed with writing tips, advice, and fun exercises.
Ready to write? Order your copy here:
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