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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Off the Page...
May 2004 Column

Text Thinning: The art of self-editing
by Tama Westman

As writers, we are also called upon to be editors. Before turning in a manuscript, we check for spelling slip-ups, grammatical goofs and proper punctuation placement. Just don't ask us to erase any of our carefully crafted, originally penned words, right?

Don't we wish it were so? Facts are, we may write a fabulous piece of work and have the editor turn around and ask us to cut it by a third, a half or more. Once I had to shrink a 1250 word article to a mere 300 words. Difficult—but possible—when you hold the keys to self-editing in your hand.

Prepare to be honest with yourself
When in editing mode, you should be objective, exact and thorough. Ask questions such as:

Does this make sense?
What is the care factor?
Will this potentially make a difference?
Would I read it?

Sometimes the only question to ask is, "Have I done my job and met the needs of the readership in doing so?"

After answering such questions, a thorough check for spelling and grammatical errors is crucial, along with a critical eye towards the fluidity from one paragraph to the next. Once printed, it's too late to make changes and you don't want to rely on your editor to catch your mistakes. Not only is this unprofessional, but you think you don't have enough time? Editors have less.

Mega, mini and ultra mini versions
I've learned to work lengthy articles into a mega, mini or ultra mini version. The mega version is the whole shebang. When I think the word count will burst brain cells with my editor, I will suggest a serial. If the editorial calendar is simply too full, I will submit what I consider to be the main points, minus support material such as illustrations and excessive quotes. Eliminating one or two points can also accomplish this.

Painful as it may be, you may have to scratch the lovely prose and delightful word pictures and deal with bare bones—"just the facts, ma'am, and nothin' but the facts." Learn to write tight—condensing sentences to as few words as possible to get the meaning across.

Start big, and then condense. It's easier to remove examples and eloquence than to try to expand. And remember, whenever you edit and delete, be sure to save those well-worked words into another file, they may come in handy later.

Sidebars and pullout quotes are a great way to work scratched information back onto the page. First, be sure that the information is expendable. Most editors welcome sidebars though, and this device will help to reduce your word count.

Print a hard copy for final proof
Be sure to print at least one hard copy for your final edit. It is amazing how comfortable your eyes may become with glaring errors on the monitor screen. These will pop on the printed page, saving you embarrassment with your editor later.

Once you've edited, polished and have asked another writer to critique it, send it in!

In my view, writers beat themselves up too much. Take a bite from the confidence apple. Once you've answered your questions, feel it's a good piece, without any errors, submit it.

Becoming comfortable with your ability to write is key to knowing when a piece is finished. If you wanted to, you could keep editing and changing a project forever—it can always be better, stronger, and more concise. While some pieces will warrant the extra effort, it's not realistic to think that everything you write is going to be prize-winning material. It can't all be gold. Sometimes platinum, copper, or even a high-polished steel will suffice.

Key resources to self-editing:

The Elements of Style

The Elements of Style
William Strunk Jr., E.B. White,
Roger Angell


Words on Target

Words on Target
Sue Nichols, Doyle Robinson

The Elements of Grammar
The Elements of Grammar
Margaret Shertzer

Better Vocabulary in 30 Minutes a DayBetter Vocabulary In 30 Minutes A Day
Edie Schwager

Self-Editing For Fiction Writers
Self-Editing For Fiction Writers
Renni Browne, Dave King


Tama Westman writes the Off the Page column for Write From Home. As a correspondent and columnist, she publishes news articles, feature stories and her column, Cuppa Thoughts, regularly with her local paper, the Chaska Herald. She has served as the editor of the award-winning literary magazine, Haute Dish. Her articles appear in several local newspapers and, nationally in The Gathering and Light & Life Magazine.

She teaches creative writing and poetry classes with the AHEAD program (Achieving Higher Education and Dreams) at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN, mentors high school journalism students, and teaches beginning and intermediate writers at conferences throughout the country. Married with two grown children, she keeps her balance with a cup of tea taken in the afternoon in her English garden. Further samples of her writing can be viewed on her Web site, http://www.tamawestman.com feel free to e-mail comments to tama@tamawestman.com









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