Being Lou Grant: Will Editing Make Me A Better Writer?

I knew absolutely nothing about editing until ten days ago when we opened our doors at Entrepreneur Soul.   Since then I’ve uploaded nearly 40 posts from guest contributors and some say my learning curve is faster than The Stig.   A bit like art, I know nothing about editing either but I know what I like as a reader and so it is falling to me right now to create our in-house style.

What I am hoping is that reading and editing and uploading others’ material and making them look good in print will make me a better writer.   Clearly that is me in the picture with my red pen out although I’m not sure where that silver bun came from. And I’m only 56 not 106, but hey – one day we’ll have a proper editor and a picture editor; won’t that be fun? And a proof-reader too. Bliss.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far from the small crimes I’ve seen perpetrated, all of which have ended up on my cutting-room floor:

Length: Dear me, we do go on and God knows I’ve no room to speak here. But one Beloved Contributor, and she will know who she is, had me edit her by at least fifty percent. It took me most of Sunday night and was up until that point my most challenging edit to date, deciding what to keep in and what to cut out to get 3200+ words down to 1500 give or take.  It was more of a precis job really, so here’s a tip:  if in doubt, cut it into two separate posts – Parts 1 and 2.

Exclamation marks: Guest bloggers are tending to err on the side of abundance but you only need an exclamation mark where you have made an exclamation, not where you are trying to indicate that you are joking. Leave that to the reader to decide if you are being funny. I generally go through and remove them all.   Ouch!

Phrases in the middle of sentences, often more than one: It takes me ages to work out what you are on about and move all your text around so that I can avoid most of them. My first draft involves lots of commas before and after the phrases in the sentence, so as to make sense of it all, and so this reader can catch her breath. Where I spot myself inserting those commas endlessly and if nothing vital is lost, I generally just delete the gratuitous phrase(s).

Speech/quotation marks: Modern usage encourages us to believe we have to put these around perfectly ordinary everyday expressions as if they were made up or special in some way, or to draw attention to them. I’m only allowing speech marks where you are quoting someone else or writing dialogue.

Repetition: Blogging encourages us to write as we speak and that’s good, but it does highlight where you are being boringly repetitive or a creature of habit. Of course is one example.   I cut out most of the of courses as they don’t add anything.   Sometimes people will use them up to three times in a very short paragraph. Of course usually precedes the stating of the bl****ing obvious so why underline that fact?

Gentle Reader, I’m not complaining. Please don’t think that. I’m loving my new job and I hope it will inform my own writing.   The very best writing I have seen in the last few weeks has been the simplest where the writer tells a story using clean, clear, simple words and no fancy tricks in a mistaken attempt to look more literary or impress our readers or over-complicate. Our readers are a canny lot and they are onto us.

What are your pet hates when it comes to punctuation, spelling, grammar and editorial style?   Do share, you will be helping, especially if you are a professional.

Fancy your chances at getting past my editor’s virtual red pen? I do hope so. All guest contributions are welcomed at Entrepreneur Soul and gratefully received. Look at it this way, you are encouraging me to channel my inner Lou Grant. And when I’m not being Editor, I’m being Publisher and that would make me Mrs Pynchon but that’s a story I’m saving for another day.

Please submit all Guest posts for Entrepreneur Soul here: EntrepreneurSoul.com/Contribute. And don’t worry, I’ll be gentle with you. You have my word, just before I eat, shoot and leave.

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3 Responses to “Being Lou Grant: Will Editing Make Me A Better Writer?”

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  1. Bianca Tait says:

    Oh my goodness I know exactly what you are talking about here J. I find this job of editing extremely challenging. It is tough intensive concentrated work so good luck to you. I had never heard of Lou Grant before reading this.

    Editing is of course essential ingredient to blogging me thinks, I tend to lose interest in writing very quickly if there are too many errors, be it typos or grammar related. I’m not perfect myself – but almost.

    Good luck!

  2. I’m liking this post. I always write my monthly horoscopes as I speak and then I go through them a second time cutting out all the buffer words (or most of them); of course, just, well, etc….
    It’s an interesting exercise paring language down to its bare essentials and yet still keeping its character. Easier to read actually. Great, you’re learning a new skill and that’s always excellent.
    Enjoying rediscovering apostrophes as my 11 year old daughter learns about them and how they completely alter a sentence’s meaning. She thinks it’s all very funny.

  3. Anne says:

    Pet hates of punctuation – misplaced apostrophes. Ladie’s anyone? meal’s served here? Ouch, it hurts just to write them.

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