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Editing Help – Tips for Revising Articles, Essays, and Short Stories

Even the most successful writers need editing help! These tips for revising articles, essays, and short stories will help clean up your copy and make even your pickiest readers (and editors) happy.

Before the tips, a quip:

“Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.” – Lawrence Kasdan.

If you like homework, you’ll love being a writer. And if you love being a writer, you’d best learn to love (or at least tolerate) the editing and revision process. The following editing help is from Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected by Jessica Page Morrell. Click the book for details – I suspect this will become my favorite resource for writers; it’s full of great writing tips – and read on for several editing tips.

Editing Help – Tips for Revising Articles, Essays, and Short Stories

Save all versions of your drafts. I do not do this, and I suspect I’ll live to regret it. When I edit, I totally wipe out the earlier versions of my articles, query letters, book proposals, etc. This tip for revising your articles or essays helps when you need to reinstate what you deleted (which I haven’t had to do. Yet). Morrell recommends numbering and/or dating all your drafts.

Be strategic and practical as you edit your work. This is one of the best editing tips I’ve tried: focus on one thing at a time when you’re revising your work. After you’ve let your writing age for some time (Stephen King recommends letting your writing sit for six weeks), find the major mistakes. After correcting those, fine-tune the individual scenes, pacing, and minor mistakes. Focus on your overall style and readability. Then, clean up your grammar, sentence, structure, and mechanical mistakes. The idea behind this editing help is to revise your article, essay, or short story with one “editor’s hat” on at a time.

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Make sure questions are embedded throughout. Sprinkling unanswered questions throughout your article, essay, or short story will keep your readers hooked. Of course, part of editing and revising is making sure you answer those questions before the reader forgets about them or gets frustrated!

Check your transitions. This editing help seems obvious, but it’s often overlooked – and if you don’t transition your thoughts and ideas, your reader will be lost. A transition is like a thread that runs from the beginning to the end of your article; if you read articles in magazines like Time or The New Yorker, you’ll probably see the thread throughout the article.

Print your article, essay, or story in a different font. I don’t do this either! I edit on screen (except when I wrote my potentially life-altering sample chapters for a publisher). Not only should you print out your writing on paper, you should use a different font, font size, and spacing than you did on screen.

Revise your writing in a different location. When I printed my sample chapters, I edited them as I walked through the forest. This tip for revising your article or essays gives you “editorial distance”, says Morrell, and helps you get out of your normal work space – which will help you edit more effectively.

Don’t edit the life out of your writing. “…too much rewriting can drain the life right out of a piece,” writes Morrell. “Don’t strive for perfection; it doesn’t exist.” When you’re editing your writing, try to retain the spark or spice that makes the piece yours. Don’t revise your work so much that you hear your writer’s voice.

If you have any questions or thoughts on these tips for revising articles, essays, and short stories, please comment below!

9 thoughts on “Editing Help – Tips for Revising Articles, Essays, and Short Stories”

  1. I also have a hard time writing. I submitted my work to editingsolutions.ca and was blown away by their efficiency and professionalism. They really set my work apart.

  2. Thanks for your comments, and tips.

    I’m glad the transitions tip worked for you, Karen. Chopping writing makes readers stop reading.

    Lisa, it sounds like you’re very thorough and structured when you edit. Good for you!

    My biggest problem — besides not saving previous drafts, like you, Jennifer — is ditching paragraphs or even sentences that don’t work. I see it as a waste of time and energy. So, I have a hard time cutting my work.
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..Why Write for Suite 101? 10 Benefits of Online Writing =-.

  3. Hi Laurie,

    I do struggle with this as I tend to edit as I go.

    I have found the most helpful piece of advice (for me) is to put the darned thing away for a while and then get back to it with a fresh eye. Makes a huge difference for me.

    .-= George Angus´s last blog post ..New 10K Challenge Day =-.

  4. I have been bitten by not following tip #1. In my current fiction WIP, I made a huge change, and went on for a couple weeks before I realized it didn’t work. Because I didn’t save multiple drafts, I had to try to re-create the original. A lot of work that I could have avoided if I had kept the previous version.

  5. Laurie,

    Great tips, will definitely check out that book. I like focusing on 1-2 things at a time when I edit my work. First and foremost for me is correcting all the spelling and grammatical mistakes; those I find quite distracting. Once that is done, I print the document out, do a read through for any glaring mistakes in sentence structure, redundancy, etc.. Then, I move on to everything else; one issue at a time. Good idea, definitely. At some point, I’ll read it out loud too to catch any tricky dialogue, pacing, readability issues.

    With my client’s work, I tend to catch everything obvious on the first read-through, go back read through again (sometimes out loud if something doesn’t “sound” right) to fine-tune.
    .-= Lisa (lablady)´s last blog post ..Making The Shift =-.

  6. This is great, Laurie. I especially like the transition tip. Many writers don’t understand just how important transitions are for helping readers follow their ideas.

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