On that note, I’m going to write about editing once more. Actually, I’m going to write about writing.
Recently, I’ve edited several projects that had my hair bristling. I found myself totally frustrated and wanting to ask my clients why they didn’t write more clearly. To be more explicit, I wanted to yell, “Write simply! Write what you mean! Don’t make it so complicated!” I had to spend huge amounts of time – and their money — trying to make sense of their sentences, which were written in amazingly convoluted ways and with the most absurdly odd word choices.
From this experience, I wan to offer this advice: As you write, rewrite and edit, keep this in mind the fact that most readers don’t want to struggle to understand what you are writing. They want to read your sentences once – – not two or three or four times — and comprehend your point. They don’t have a need for you to impress them with your amazing use of the English language, especially if that use leaves them wondering what you are trying to say. If you have a good vocabulary, use it, but write as you would speak. If you aren’t sure if your writing is easily read, read it aloud. Does it sound like you? Would anyone speak the way you’ve written? Does what you have written really make any sense? If you answer “no” to any of these questions, rewrite for clarity and simplicity. If you aren’t sure, ask someone who knows nothing about your subject to read a page or two of your manuscript. Then ask them if they understood what you wrote. You can even ask them a few pointed questions to be sure they really got your message. If they didn’t, clearly you need to go back and try again – this time more simply. Believe me, your readers (and your editor) will thank you.
My pet peeve — passive writing — gets activated almost every time I work on a client’s manuscript. Turning passive writing into active writing takes up about 75 percent or more of my time as an editor. It costs my clients a lot of money. So, here’s my last piece of advice: Learn how to write an active sentence. This means getting rid of any form of the verb “to be” whenever possible. Occasionally, the verbs “is,” “are,” “were,” and “was” do sneak into even the best writer’s work (even mine), but if you can avoid them, you’ll end up with much stronger – and more active – writing. Sometime you can substitute another verb and change a passive sentence into an active one, but, more often than not, accomplishing this requires a full sentence rewrite.
Happy nonfiction writing! Thanks for joining me for the past 30 days! Good luck!