Scarf Weather + Answers! (Part Eleven: EDITING)

It's growing chilly here in the mountains, so My Celebrity Boyfriends are putting on their scarves. The bundled up cutie above is Gael García Bernal. If you aren't familiar with his work (Y Tu Mamá También, The Science of Sleep, The Motorcycle Diaries, etc.), you should fix that. IMMEDIATELY. Not only is he yum, but he's also one of the most talented actors in the world. His work is perfection!

Here's another picture of Gael wearing a scarf, because it's my blog, so I can do that:

Even here in small town North Carolina, Gael is BOMBARDED by autograph seekers.

Today I'm answering a question that ties-in quite nicely with something weighing on my mind. First, the question.

Corinne Bowen recently asked this good one:

Do you feel like it is a completely different novel now that the editor has his/her hands on it?

Um . . . no. Not really.

It's a BETTER novel, and it will continue to strengthen throughout the editing process (last month was about the bigger changes — cutting/adding/changing scenes, but we have yet to work on the language/sentence level), but Anna and the Boy Masterpiece is still Anna and the Boy Masterpiece. The characters are the same, the plot is the same, the heart of the story is the same. My editor is brilliant at focusing me on my goal — what I'm actually trying to say and do — and then helping me find the best, most realistic, and most effective way to get there.

In other words, we're trying to make Anna MORE like Anna, as opposed to something new and different.

If that makes sense.

Wee James McAvoy at the park yesterday. I snapped this while he was looking at the ducks. He mumbled something about knitting them a sweater, but it was probably the cold medicine talking. (He has a sniffly nose.)

So . . . I love revising. I do.

I've loved this whole process — sleepless nights, panicked meltdowns, and all — because I have a PURPOSE again. When I tear apart my work and puzzle it back together, it's the most satisfying feeling I get as a writer, because I know the end product will be better.

Our work can always be better, right? And don't we want to put our best work forward?

This is the issue weighing on my mind. Self-editing. Please allow me to first state that I don't consider myself an expert on this subject. It's something I spend considerable time thinking about, but I have a lot to learn. There's ALWAYS a lot to learn.

Okay, here's the deal . . .

Last weekend, I read a relatively new YA paranormal. (Sorry, I won't share the title.) And the same thing happened that's been happening over and over, again and again. This novel could have been great. Cool, interesting, and unique things were abound! But at least a third of the book had nothing to do with the plot.


For instance, I don't know how many times I read about the main character going to bed, waking up, and then eating breakfast. Going to bed, waking up, eating breakfast. Going to bed, waking up, eating breakfast. That's tiring, isn't it?

This mistake is common in first drafts, when a writer is working in that "This happens, then this happens, then this happens" frame of mind. And it's fine! I do this, too! In early drafts. But this is something that HAS to be fixed in later drafts. There's no point in telling me what your character does every minute of every day.

It's the equivalent of people who Twitter their potato chip consumption and their bedtimes. It's information that's not contributing anything important to the discussion.

This particular novel also described every time the main character stepped into a car. Just get her into the car and take her somewhere! I don't need to know how she sat down! Better yet, skip to the scene where she actually IS in the place Where Stuff Happens. Who needs the car at all?

Chris Martin polished off our Halloween candy this afternoon, so we sent him back to the corner store for more. He's currently working his way through the new bag of Kit-Kats.

And then . . . several hundred pages later . . . the book just ended. Mid-plot. No resolve whatsoever. And now I'm supposed to wait for two sequels, when really, if the pointless bits were cut, ALL THREE BOOKS could have been combined into one Super-Awesome Book!

Now, don't get me wrong.

I don't mind when a book leaves a few issues unresolved (sequel or standalone). It's when NO issues are resolved, that I get frustrated. There’s no satisfaction for me, as a reader, if I don’t get some worry eased. Consider The Lord of the Rings. The first two novels have sudden endings, but they both still have a climax and full story arc. It’s that full arc that's so often neglected in favor of now-you'll-have-to-buy-the-sequel-next-year!

I don't appreciate that.

I want to WANT to buy the sequel, not to feel like I HAVE to buy it. You know? So, for my sake, please consider your work in progress. Ask yourself:

• Does every scene, every paragraph, have a purpose? Do you see any repeating patterns in your story (i.e.
going to bed, waking up, eating breakfast)? Don't be afraid to cut! That's how you make a page-turner.

• Do you need to show your character getting from A to B, or can you summarize it in a sentence in the next scene?
(Cut, cut, cut!)

• Does your novel — even if it's part of a series — have a beginning, a middle, and an end? Is there a complete story told within those pages? The end doesn't have to be The End, but there should be SOME climactic scene that ends in SOME resolve, that will give your readers a sense of peace as they wait for your next novel.

Lee Pace is always smiling! It's wonderful when he visits. Too bad he doesn't realize that Wee James has just hidden all of his underwear. (I'm not sure if it was a practical joke, or if it was the cold medicine talking again.)

Anyway, as an outsider, it's impossible for me to tell whether this particular novel's faults (my opinion) were a result of poor editing on the author's end or on the editor's. Most likely, both. And I want to bring this to the attention of any aspiring novelists reading this blog, because it's important to understand that not every book published receives an in-depth editorial process.

I'm lucky. I have one! My editor, the fabulous Julie Strauss-Gabel, is AMAZING. She puts an incredible amount of time, energy, and love into each book she works with.

But not everyone will get a Julie.

The sad truth is that Julies are rare and, even if you're fortunate enough to have one, most of your novel's editing? Yeah. It's still up to you. (Also, might I point out that you're far more likely to get a Julie — or any editor! — if you take your time self-editing before you submit to a publishing house. I'm just saying.)

Do the best you can. That doesn't mean perfect, because perfect doesn't exist, but do the best you can.

Thom Yorke was soooo mad when I took this! He didn't realize I was watching him mess around in my husband's studio. Plus, he doesn't appreciate evidence that shows he visits my house. (Chris had to pop out of town last weekend, so Thom quickly popped in. And I'm not allowed to share any more details, because if I do, Thom won't answer my phone calls for the next month. And I like talking to my grumpy boyfriend. SO I AM NOT TELLING YOU ANYTHING MORE ABOUT OUR WEEKEND TOGETHER.)

I could go on about this subject all week, but I have more questions to answer. I'll wrap this up by listing a handful of my favorite self-editing tips:

• How-to write books. I'm serious. The more you read, the more beginner mistakes you'll avoid. My favorites: Stephen King's On Writing (great introduction, I always recommend people read it first), Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird (great second book, gets a little deeper), Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel (just plain good), Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones (exercises to strengthen), and finally — THIS IS A BIG ONE — Renni Browne and Dave King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

• Cut the adverbs. You don't need as many as you think you do.

• Lose the "was -ing" phrases. Ex: "Was running" is weaker than "ran." If you can say something in fewer words, DO IT. Try performing a "Find" search in your document for the word "was" to locate them. Trust me, you can eliminate most of them! The worst offender is "was going to." For instance, this second sentence is cleaner, no?

Drusilla was going to be easy.
Drusilla would be easy.

• Keep a list of the words you overuse. (My list, among many things, includes: grin, smile, eyes, laugh, hand.) Every time you finish a new draft, do another "Find" search. Eliminate some of these.

• Dialogue tags, "he said/she said." These are meant to be invisible. You don't want your audience to be conscious of reading them, because it takes them out of the action. This means:

— No fancy tags. "He said" and "he asked" is all you need, 97% of the time. Please refrain from peppering your dialogue with, "he exclaimed" or "he shouted" (the shouting should be apparent from either the content or an exclamation point).

— If it's clear who is speaking, don't use a tag at all.

— Look for sentences like this:

"I'm on fire!" Inspector Gadget said. He waved his burning hands as if he'd performed a magic trick, not arson.

And turn them into this:

"I'm on fire!" Inspector Gadget waved his burning hands as if he'd performed a magic trick, not arson.

• Don't have your characters "start coughing." They cough. Don't have them "start playing footsie." They play footsie.

• Be conscious of every time you use parentheses, an ellipsis ( . . .), a dash, ALL CAPS, italics, and exclamation points. I'm not one of those people who believes you should never use these things (obviously), but I do believe you should be careful with how often you use them. Scoot your chair back and look at each page. Not the writing itself, but the page. Those dashes and ALL CAPS and such will jump out at you. Eliminate some and vary the rest.

• In a similar vein, be careful of your paragraphs. Examine how many long ones you have versus how many short. Try to mix it up a bit. Think about the purpose of each paragraph. If there's action happening, shorter paragraphs can be helpful. Reflective passages often call for longer paragraphs.

• "Suddenly" is a dangerous word, usually unnecessary. I keep it on my Overused Words list and perform frequent searches for it.

• Whenever you use a simple verb like "walk," drag out your thesaurus to see if there's a more appropriate word. Notice the difference between:

J. Edgar Hoover strolled to the brothel.
J. Edgar Hoover stalked to the brothel.

• Nouns are similar. "Gouda" is more specific than "cheese." "Dahlias" is more evocative than "flowers."

• Sentences like this don't make sense: "Pushing the cauliflower aside, President Taft lunged for the orange chiffon cake."

He's pushing and lunging at the same time? Try this:

"President Taft pushed the cauliflower aside and lunged for the orange chiffon cake."

• Many writers/readers/editors/agents are calling for a halt in Edward/Bellas. But for me? No more Jacob Blacks. There are so many interesting ways to create a love triangle, and I'm frustrated by running into the Jacob character again and again and AGAIN. You know, the nice boy who pops up and is like, "I love you, but I'm okay that we're just friends, please please please just hang out with me." And the main character is like, "Whatever, I guess. You're nice." And you can totally hear him thinking "YESSSSS!!! I will wear you down. You will like me." And then he just becomes The Thing In The Way.

I'm tired of this character. Someone new, please!

(And I'm not knocking on Original Jacob here, who did his thing just fine in Twilight. I'm tired of the copycat Jacobs, who I find both boring and irritating.)

• Speaking of characters, do you have too many? One of my favorite tricks is to combine two characters to create one stronger character. It's important to have characters your readers will care about, and the depth that comes from combining characters/roles can help this.

Enough already. How about another scarf?



I'm blaming Jim Sturgess. He's the only Celebrity Boyfriend who didn't wear one last week. I asked him why, and he claims he doesn't need one, because he already has:

A hipster sweater.

This cool hat.

And the world's sexiest coat.

I'll let the scarf issue slide.

Happy self-editing, everyone! I wish you the most sincere good luck.


  1. My favorite "suddenly" of all time is: "Suddenly, she blinked!"

    Wow. That blink was very sudden.

    Wow. This comment is very random too. Suffice to say that I agree completely. :)

  2. Hi Stephanie :)
    Thank you very much for the great post. I loved your examples of editing. I cut&pasted it to my Writing Folder so I can reread it & apply it.
    Thanks for sharing,
    All the best,

  3. What fantastic tips. As an editor, I'm confident in saying that a good self-editor can put into words everything you just did.

    These are all great tips for me, who has spent more time editing other people's work than my own. I'll definitely be referencing this crib sheet in the future.

  4. Wonderful tips!! Thanks so much for sharing.
    How do you keep up with so many boyfriends? I would lose track of all of them. :)

  5. OMG you mentioned my TOP fave actors! How did you manage to put Gael, James, Jim, AND LEE PACE together?!!! HOLLA TO YOU STEPH!!!!

  6. Woa! This post is exploding with editing goodness. I likey very much.

    And I also likey that one of your celeb bf's is Ned from Pushing Daisies. Oh Ned, your show was canceled far too prematurely...

  7. Great post! I'm not at the editing stage of my novel, but by the end of the semester I'll have about 30 short pieces that will need to be made lovely for my creative writing professor, so thanks!

  8. Dude. Listen to this woman. She taught me most of what I know about self-editing.


    Also, she knows her hot boys in scarves.

  9. I love you, Jim Sturgess! I'm sorry, I had a very intelligent comment to make and then you threw those pictures in at the very end and they totally distracted me. I think my comment had something to do with, great advice, and so true, and all that kind of stuff.

  10. Great advice Steph. I am bookmarking this post so I can look over it again every time I start a new round of edits.

    One word I think all writers should have on their overused list is THAT. It seems to be one of the most overused words of all time. If I catch myself using it, I stop myself and think long and hard about whether or not I really need it. Then, at the end, I do a find to see how many I missed–most of these can be removed as well.

    It is the plague of the THATs.

  11. These are all very familiar, since I've done them ALL to my ninja book.

    They seem like such small things, but together they add up to stronger writing and a more compelling story.

  12. TAGS! I just want to yell this sometimes, seriously.

    TAGS TAGS TAGS! I hate em! I try not to use them at all, but occasionally can't find a way around it.

    I also LOVE the find tool. It makes me so happy to find my was's and cut 'em.

    You are very wise. I shall listen to everything you say. :)

  13. You are an angel. Thank you so much for this blog. I am on the home stretch with my manuscript and these tips are exactly what I needed to read! I can't wait to read your book by the way. I am going to pick up Stephen King's On Writing tonight:) Have you read Chapter After Chapter by Sellers? It rocks. Thanks again for answering my question!

  14. OMG! You read the same book I just finished last night! I had the exact same issues too. I was like wow the end here is what should be the start of the middle of this book! I skimmed past so much walking, and cleaning, not to mention the entirely pointless family vacation! It felt like a first draft to me too.

    I'm actually going to post on another issue that book brought up for me.

    This is a great post!

  15. This post is made of win! Wow! Im totally printing this so I can keep checking it while I edit.

  16. Also, please tell James to hold off on visiting until he's all better. Unless he wants to get up with my kids in the middle of the night.

    And we all know how attached he is to sleeping...

  17. These are fantastic tips. Thanks for sharing them. Them + the pictures of Jim Sturgess. *noms*

  18. *goes to buy more scarves*

    Please tell my James to feel better, and thanks for the great advice!

  19. Steph - regarding your advice to "Keep a list of the words you overuse. (My list, among many things, includes: grin, smile, eyes, laugh, hand.) Every time you finish a new draft, do another "Find" search. Eliminate some of these.", Rexroth recommends creating a Wordle on your manuscript and using it to weed out the overused words.

    And I think Rexroth is very very wise.

  20. This post is a perfect example of why I follow your blog. You give excellent writing advice, and I can see Wee James looking both ways before he stashes Lee's underwear. Thanks!

  21. Daphne Unfeasible- Your Wordle tip is amazing! I'm going to do that right now:)

    Stephanie- Thanks for stopping by my blog again with those extra tips on recommended reading! It's authors like who that take the extra time to share their knowledge who create loyal fans.

  22. I loved this post so much that I scrolled back through older ones that I hadn't read again in awhile. Seriously, you rock. And make me giggle.

  23. I second Daphne about wordle but I think it works even better on a chapter by chapter basis.

    I find it's helpful to use on a chapter or scene sequence so that I can see if I'm using the same words over and over when focused on one topic or event.

    When you're doing your entire manuscript there might not be enough instances of a word for it to show up, but when checking out just that chapter you might find that you've used it way too much.

  24. Awesome post, Steph! Editing is probably my least-favorite writing pastime, but mostly because I have to face the fact that 70% of my stuff isn't gold it's crap. Hence why editing is necessary! LOL

  25. A truly awesome post! Perhaps better (and more efficient) than wading through writing books...

    I cam by way of Kiersten's blog. So good to find you!

  26. Cute guys in scarves and great editing advice? What more could any self-respecting female writer want?

    Thank you SOOO much!! I'm working hard on a YA first draft, and will keep these tips in mind.

    (Thanks, Kiersten, for sending me here!)

  27. I would really be more comfortable if you would not take pics of my boyfriend, James McAvoy, in the park.

    This was great advice, thank you so much.

  28. Hee! This is great & I didn't realize we shared an editor!! WHEE JSB!

    (And a love a Lee Pace, but who's counting?)



  29. This was great, Stephanie! I'll have to check out some of those books.

  30. Awesome post. And I absolutely agree with you on the Jacob clone thing. Where's the tension in the love triangle if there is no doubt in your mind that the girl will ever actually go for this guy? He becomes, like you send, just a nuisance to the reader.

  31. Fab advice Stephanie! I definitely need to use my "find" more often. Poor James. Ah well, he looks hot in his wee scarf!

  32. I'm pretty sure I know what book you're talking about. I couldn't even get past the 4th chapter. Just not enough reasons to keep reading...

    And thanks for the great tips!!

    You are so lucky to have Julie as an editor. You must wake up and pinch yourself every day.

  33. Wow. This might be my fave post ever! What insanely great advice!!!!

    I literally can't WAIT for your book :-)

    And it was so fun to stop every once and a while and see what your boys were doing.

  34. I could barely take in all your writing advice between drooling over James McAvoy Jim Sturgess.


    And thanks to Katie at Plot This for linking to your blog and introducing me to your penchant for scarves and celebrity boyfriends. Oh, and the writing stuff, too. ;)

  35. 1. Love the update on your boys!

    2. Great advice.

    3. "J. Edgar Hoover strolled to the brothel.
    J. Edgar Hoover stalked to the brothel." Hahahahahaha!

  36. Thank you so much for this. I'm going to bookmark it and hopefully have the guts to read my first draft again. Thank you!

  37. This was extremely helpful! I am currently revising my first novel for the first time. I haven't gotten far. But now I know what to look for! Thank you!!

    PS--I love Jacob so much. The book would be better with JUST Jacob. Werewolves are just way cooler.

  38. This is an awesome post!! I also think on y our list of things to read and learn about writing a book is the Not For Robots site. Sooo much goodness there!

    You seem to be accumulating more boyfriends...is that allowed?

  39. Thank you for this. I laughed, I drooled, I learned!

  40. Even iF you had NOT mentioned 'cauliflower' or shared your celebrity boyfriends (how did you get so many?) I must, no, MUST say, ROCK ON!!!

  41. I'm surprised I managed to take any of that informatin in with all that hot totty on view.

    Anyway, I wanted to say thank you... I've been stuck for a couple of weeks by some life issues, followed by jet lag and then by not knowing what happened next. This post has jump started me. Thank you.

    PS I came via Nathan and Between Fact and Fiction.

  42. So get what you mean about badly edited books. it is so frustrating to someone like me - an aspiring author to see these people published with there work in that sort of a state. You just want to sit down a read a good book, but you end up wanting to write all over in with read pen. Like you I never know whether to blame the writer or the editor.

  43. Hunting down the overused words now, chapter by chapter.

    Thanks for the great post!

  44. When you emntiont he fancy tags (like exclaimed and shouted, could you provide an example for replacing terms describing a quieter volume (like whispered, stuttered, etc)?

  45. Love this! I am doing all of this right now as I revise. I didn't realize how many wells and feels I had!

  46. I'll definitely be referring back to this post as I continue my edits.

  47. Best blog page ever.

    I'm completely guilty of almost every "not to do". Ah. Someday I'll be a writer. Just like someday you'll be a pianist. Someday.

  48. I randomly came across a link for this site, and can I just say that I'm really glad I did:)
    I finished my first novel about 9 months ago and just began editing it. After writing a ton of other random things and coming back to my first, I realize how bad it sucks. Not that the storyline itself sucks, but my writing contains 75% of the mistakes listed in your blog. Plus, I really like your boyfriends:)
    A suggestion to any amateur writer: when you finish your first novel- PUT IT AWAY. Not forever, but for a while until you can separate yourself from it. Don't stop writing, just write other things. When you go back to your 'first' you'll see things more clearly. It makes the editing process much easier:)

  49. I feel so lucky that Natalie linked to this post today. It is very informative and helpful. Thanks for sharing! Now I can add all these things to my list of editing things I need to do! : )

    Oh, and love the sarves, by the way! *stares longingly is extremely jealous of Stephanie and her celebrity boyfriends*

  50. I critiqued a novel like that once. I told her (and demonstrated using other books) that at the end of the novel, nothing had really happened. In Twilight, by EOB1 we know Edward's secret and Bella has already almost got herself killed 8 million times.
    By EOB1 Eragon, we know the truth about Eragon and some of the history of the dragons and riders. Eragon has found the mystery lady and met up with the dwarves and others.
    Harry Potter, Books 1-4 do a pretty good job of being stand alone...

    I don't have this problem at all. Probably cuz I'm a really visual person, so I see my book like a movie. It has scenes. How many movies do you know which regularly include the character waking up? Groundhog Day, but that's just because it's important to the plot.

    Another suggestion for checking your overused words. Select all and copy your document. Paste into wordle.net and make a word cloud. Then you try to avoid those words where possible.

  51. Celebrity boyfriends and writing tips?

    That's like strawberries and cream...and a big muffin.

    OK — so I'm in.

  52. Fantastic editing tips!

    I'm going to go through all your advice when I edit my book.

  53. So, I was just re-reading this post (I think this is the post that I found your blog through) and I've decided you're a godsend.
    The pain of editing broken up by pretty boys. Heaven!

    I am gathering editing tips as I prepare to launch myself into edits with my new MS. A little scared and a little excited.