Let’s be honest. The editing process is not as fun as the initial storytelling process. Editing requires that you read your writing with fresh eyes, pull out your red pen machete, and start hacking away at superfluous details, tangents, and parts of speech.
Why is editing so important? You want people to read, understand, and remember what you’ve written. If your book is too hard to read, then your audience will put it down in favor of an easier option.
Regardless of your high school English grade, editing your work is a humbling experience. You’ve forgotten more rules than you realize—some you never learned correctly in the first place—and some rules have changed over the years. I’ve outlined a handful of editing ideas I learned from Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Some of these ideas are contrary to your English teacher’s grading rubric—now is your chance to break the Grammar Police rules!
1 Know your Grandma (and your Grammar). One of my grandmothers used to sign her name GRAMMAR. As I got older and learned of her “typo”, I found it endearing.
When you write your memoir, you should write about your ancestors including your grandma. You should also write using proper grammar—you know, the painstaking rules about punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure that you first learned in elementary school and finessed in high school.
King recommends that your pick up a copy of Warriner's English Grammar and Composition. [p. 121] I also recommend that you buy a used copy of The Gregg Reference Manual (even if you don't purchase the current edition).
2 Verbs should be active. Avoid the zombies! King agrees that writers should avoid the passive tense that is “safe” and, to some people, seems like you are speaking from a position of authority (or at least like a lawyer). [p. 123]
What’s the passive voice? I recently saw a great test you can follow. If you can add the words “by zombies” to the end of the sentence, then the verb is passive, and you should consider changing it.
Here’s an example of passive voice: The car was driven home from school by zombies.
Active voice: The zombies drove the car home from school.
3. Root out adverbs. I love that King compares adverbs (words that describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs) to dandelions. One dandelion looks nice until a plethora of dandelions take over your yard. [p. 125] Instead, examine whether the adverb is necessary. Will the reader understand the context without the adverb?
Make sure you start by pulling the following extraneous adverbs from your writing:
Really, very, and pretty (as in pretty hard, pretty exciting).
4. Be original. Similes, metaphors, and imagery help make the story come alive for the reader, but if you’ve heard the phrase before, it’s most likely a cliché. Be original. Avoid clichés.
For example, He ran like a bat out of hell. She was a busy as a one-armed paperhanger. She was as red as a beet.
You can learn to write if you are willing to take a chance and work hard to improve. Read books you enjoy and learn a little grammar to help make your own writing easier for your readers to enjoy.
As always, please contact me if I can help you bring your memoir to life!
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2000. Print.
Want more writing information?
You might like to read 9 Thrilling Memoir Writing Tips I Learned from Stephen King.
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© 2017 Sunday Dinner Stories, Michelle Beckman