How do you edit your writing?

“Have the courage to write badly.” It’s an old adage and I have no idea who first said it, but it’s valuable advice for that first draft. It is so easy to get stuck along the way and waste days, weeks, months and years, fixing it and not finishing. The goal is to finish, so initially, I write badly just to get it down. The editing process is when I correct and try to NOT write badly.
As I edit, here’s what I look for.
1. Punctuation and spelling – Much of this is auto-corrected by my computer, but I still need to go through my work word by word and line by line. I still miss some of these errors and when friends edit my work they find more errors.
2. Adverbs – I remove most or all of them. They don’t add anything.
3. Adjectives – I remove most of them. While my grade seven teacher praised, “the lush, verdant green rain forest,” it has no place in my writing today. Instead of excessive adjectives, I try to include sensory experiences (See 8).
4. Repeated words – I just completed a short story where I’d used the word ‘normal’ five times on one page. One stayed, and I changed four. A thesaurus helped. I try not to repeat a word in the same paragraph and preferably not on the same page.
5. Direct speech – He said or she said is the preferred style. “Mary uttered sadly,” “He shouted angrily,” “She sighed lovingly,” all come out to be replaced by He said, She says, or said John. When only two people are talking, I often omit who is speaking as it’s obvious.
6. Unnecessary words, phrases and sentences – I take them out to tighten up the story.
7. Active voice as opposed to passive voice – Active voice is preferred. It’s easier to read, less confusing and improves the pacing of a story. I attempt to change most sentences to active voice. e.g.: The thief was arrested by the police. (passive) The police arrested the thief. (active)
8. Sensory experiences – I check to ensure that I have included relevant references to smell, hearing, taste, touch and sight. If necessary, I make additions that draw on the senses.
9. Clichés – I search for these and replace them with my own words.

While editing, I don’t always see my own mistakes. I belong to the Ubud Writers Group and the members of our group help each other with editing. I also use a program called PRO Writing Aid ( and it is excellent for proofing work.
How do you edit your work? I would love to hear your editing tips.

Thank you to Carol Frei for proof reading this blog and suggesting changes.

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