Friday, August 16, 2013

Guest Post by Julie Lindy - "To Edit, Or Not To Edit?"

I wish I wish I wish I could churn out novels every month or every other month. I've gotta lot of stories in my head, and I can't get them on paper fast enough. But I'm much too cautious and much too respectful of my readers to write a story, do a quick once-over, and then toss it up on Amazon. First drafts are, after all, first drafts. They read like first drafts: awkward, long, messy. And that's where an editor comes in.

I've talked about Julie before. I'll talk about her again. And I'll keep talking about her until writers who should be seeking professional editing services for their books actually do it. Readers are paying for these stories!! Now I'll let her tell you why it's so damn important . . .

To Edit, Or Not To Edit?

     Do all writers need editors? I’d say it depends. Are you presenting a work that positions you as a professional? Summer adamantly insists that professional editing services are a non-negotiable imperative for authors. At the risk of sounding self-serving, I agree. If you’re asking somebody to pay for your work – thereby making you a professional – then editing is a cost of doing business and a professional standard of practice.

     Good writers, like all good artists, allow themselves to be vulnerable. They bare their work like an open soul and present it to an audience for judgment. They’re paradoxically both fearless and startlingly exposed. My advice is to write with abandon, emotion and honesty. Self-edit. Then, pass it on to an editor, detach your work from your ego, and brace yourself for a reality check.

     The editor’s No. 1 job is to serve as the reader’s advocate. Editors can love the writer, but they have to love the reader more. They’re the first detached audience members – test monkeys of sorts. Good editors perform surgery. They spot the tumors – benign or malignant – and artfully remove them with sharp steely knives, leaving no scars. They body-scan the work and help identify skeletal weaknesses, as well as opportunities for cosmetic improvement. Good editors approach the work from both strategic and tactical vantage points. On the strategic side, they look at the whole body. Where is the bone, nerve, muscle and fat? Is the organization sound? The conflict and characters believable? Are there bloopers? The tactical side involves line edits and proofing. Does the text disrupt the reader’s flow through wordiness, ambiguity, redundancy or shoddy punctuation? Is the author inadvertently pissing off the reader for reasons that have nothing to do with the story?

     Here are five points to think about as you write. They won’t replace an editor, but they can result in a cleaner, more confident manuscript:

      1. Readers want to like your work! Nobody begins reading a book, or goes to a movie, or attends a concert thinking, “Wow. I bet this will suck! I know I’ll hate it, so I’ll definitely invest my time and money here!” Your audience starts with an open mind, eager anticipation, and a positive attitude. You start with an A. It’s up to you to keep it.

      2. It’s not about the writer. It’s about the audience. A written work is a form of performance. One of the best-selling books of all time is “Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank – a teenager’s private journal, written with no intention of becoming a public work. Still, Anne creates an audience for her work: her imaginary friend, Kitty. Kitty is pivotal to making Anne’s diary engaging and reader-friendly. John Cheever puts it another way: “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss – you can’t do it alone.” Keep your audience before you. Always.

      3. Make every word count. Don’t force readers to slog through words, clauses, sentences and paragraphs that add no value. Extraneous text will drag down your storytelling. In other words, self-edit and ask, “What can I cut?” You’ll end up with a cleaner, more readable work. In my own work, I find the first objective is, well, actually writing. Next, I self-edit. Finally, I challenge myself to reduce the word count by at least 20% to 30%. I almost always can make those cuts without losing any original meaning or intention, and I end up with a crisper work.

      4. Vivid verbs are superheroes. Verbs are the engine of the sentence . They fuel it. Which of the following is more powerful? (A) “They sprinted to the tiny door,” or (B) “With great fear they started running with all their might to the tiny door?” The verb “sprint” in the first sentence powers a six-word sentence with more juice than anything that the following 14-word sentence offers. Powerful verbs reduce your workload and color your storytelling.

     5. It’ll never be perfect in your eyes. We all have this vision that one day our houses will be just right: all carpets spotless, all closets organized, all windows gleaming. But in reality, something always stands in the way of perfection. The same concept applies to writing. Write, edit and polish. Write, edit and polish. Write, edit and polish. But at some point, you’ll have to let it go.


Julie Lindy is a freelance writer and editor who welcomes your feedback and inquiries. Contact her at


  1. Great advice! I think my problem is that I over-edit. I have the tendency to try to write a piece to perfection but, as you said, it is an art form and as such it will never be perfect. You just have to decide when you've reached that point where it's "perfect enough".

  2. Well, I didn't say art form. Julie did :) But you're right. Artists never see a work as finished. So "perfect enough" has to do.