Editing: Hunting down my bad writing habits


After the inspiration, research, character biographies, plot and chapter outlines – not to mention the actual writing of the novel – there comes a stage in the writing process that I always dread: the edit.

Editing differs from rewriting in that rewriting addresses narrative or character problems and the like. Unlike the other stages of writing a book, there is nothing fun about editing. Not only do I have to trawl through the manuscript and remove redundancies, unnecessary adverbs and so on, I also have to develop a nose for my own bad habits. Said bad habits are specific to me, though no doubt other writers will share some and have a few of their own. Generally these bad habits manifest themselves in the form of overused words or phrases, or terms that could be replaced with better, more descriptive words.

In early drafts, far too often I employ the phrase “at that moment” (as opposed to “at another moment”?). I’m also really bad at using “suddenly” as a means of artificially inflating excitement. Then there are overused words including “looked”, “saw”, “as”, “started”, and that demon of passive writing “was”. These have to be painstakingly and mercilessly culled, unless there really is no better word choice.

This process seems endless, but it is worth it as it makes the finished product so much better. The most interesting characters and the best plot in the world will come unstuck by poor or unnecessary words. As a wise person once said, if you want your writing to shine, you have to polish it.

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