September 20, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Editing Corner; Overwriting

Last year, when a friend of mine approached me about helping to offload her over-abundance of freelance editing projects, I wasn’t sure if I could help. I’d always thought of myself as a writer, not an editor.

But the idea of editing was intriguing, a chance to use skills that might help me become a better writer while helping other writers reach their goals of securing an agent or selling a book.

Editing turned out to be a gift. It kept my writing mind sharp between my own projects and allowed me to connect with a whole new group of aspiring-to-be-published writers. I found that I LOVED helping them, and that I learned something new with every edit.

Those first few projects turned into many more, and I eventually set up a simple informational website to which I could refer the very few clients I took on. I worked by referral only and only when I had time between my own writing projects.

I jumped at the opportunity to co-edit the Two and Twenty Dark Tales anthology with Georgia McBride and was floored by the talent represented by the pieces, but adding the anthology to my editor credentials outed me!

So now you know; I DO freelance editing on the side.

With that in mind, I thought I’d use Thursday Night Write now and then to address editing issue. Because even though I strongly recommend you always get an outside editor (no one can see their own work objectively – and that includes me), there are things you can do, tics you can become aware of, that will make those early drafts cleaner.

One of the things I was most guilty of in the early days was overwriting. I love language. I love beautiful words and evocative turns of phrase. But like many writers, I can be my own worst enemy.

That’s because, as the old saying goes, less is usually more. And this is definitely true when it come to overly descriptive phrases, flowery language, and over-explanation. But I don’t think I really saw it without the help of my agent or editor until I started editing professionally.

Then, I REALLY noticed it.

Ironically, going overboard is actually distracting. It makes the reader pause to visualize and imagine what the writer is describing, and if there’s one thing you don’t want, it’s to give readers a reason to pause while reading your book.

A good rule of thumb is not to stack very descriptive phrases. If you have a paragraph full of intricately worded, complex sentences, you probably have too many. Try to mix it up a little. Use descriptive phrases, metaphors, etc., when it really counts, and intersperse them with simpler phrases and sentences.

Remember; the idea isn’t to impress everyone with how beautifully you can write.

It’s to pull the reader through the story. To make them not want to put the book down. To make them put off going to the bathroom or making dinner or going to bed.

And sometimes, if things are too complicated, it’s just too much work to slog through the adjectives and similes and metaphors and adverbs, to say nothing of the fact that those things are inauthentic if overused, because let’s face it; people don’t talk — or even think — that way a majority of the time.

So yes, we’re back to “kill your little darlings.” Especially the pretty ones.

And if you’re looking for freelance editing in preparation for querying agents, subbing your book to editors, or self-pubbing, you can view my editing website here. I have a rare one-month opening right now and am running a special on a full manuscript edit. Use the contact form on this website for details!

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