Posted by Keri De Deo
In his book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about two different kinds of writing: writing with the door closed and writing with the door open. First, you write with the door closed. That means you write for yourself. After you’ve done that, you open the door and revise your writing with the audience in mind. This is the step you must make before turning your writing over to an editor (or anyone else).
When you turn your work over to an editor, you want to put your best foot forward. As a freelance editor, I work daily with writers, and I’ve compiled a list of what I look for in good writing. Of course, every editor harps on his or her own pet peeves, but for the most part, we look for the following components:
- Exciting Content
Before you start worrying about word usage, syntax, grammar, etc., your writing must contain a good story. Give us drama, plot, and a rise and fall in action. Make sure to complete your research. Has the story already been written? If not, go for it! If it has, can you do it better or in a more interesting way? Writer’s Digest provides an excellent list of cliché stories to avoid.
- Accurate Content
A good editor checks your content for accuracy. If they find inaccuracies, they’ll send it back to you for changes. You might think this only applies to non-fiction or historical fiction. But it applies for all writing. Even if you write fantasy novels, physics and scientific facts matter for readers to believe your story. Before writing my book, Nothing but a Song, I played with several phone apps to make sure the apps I described actually existed. I also did research about the Deaf culture and using sign language. It helped make the story more believable. (At least I hope so.)
- Active Voice
We all have heard that saying “Show. Don’t tell.” This is where it comes to play. Rather than saying “she was smart.” Show me by using active voice. “She rattled off equations in a few seconds.” You also accomplish this by avoiding helping verbs (i.e. “to be” verbs). Don’t know what those are? See this list. You can’t avoid them every time because sometimes you need to mark a change in tense somehow, and helping verbs do this. However, if you can replace them, replace them. If they’re irreplaceable, leave them. For help in writing more active sentences, visit this link. (Yes, count how many helping verbs I used in this post. I tried to avoid them!)
- Polished Writing
Nothing makes me put down a book faster than silly mistakes. Typos happen, but they can be avoided by having several people read your draft. Don’t pick a person who won’t be honest. Pick someone you know will give you constructive feedback. Embrace criticism! Avoiding it encourages bad writing. You need feedback if you want to improve. Also, if you read your writing out loud, many errors will show up. Then have someone else read it out loud to you. If they stumble, make that sentence smoother. If no one else has seen your manuscript, don’t send it to an editor. You might just get it back quicker than you think.
Editors care about your writing, but they also care about their reputation. They won’t put their name on something that fails to meet their standards. Some editors might return your manuscript if the writing falls flat. So, make sure to send your best work to an editor and prepare for changes. As my writing teacher always said, “It’s never done; it’s just due.”
Keri De Deo, owner of Witty Owl Consulting, lives in northern Arizona and works as a writer, editor, researcher, and instructional designer. She is author of the young adult novel NOTHING BUT A SONG, released December 5, 2017. She loves technology and finding innovative tools for a happy, healthy life. Keri spends her free time with her husband kayaking, hiking, and walking her two beautiful dogs: Maiya and Lilla. To learn more about Keri, visit her website keridedeo.com! You can follow her on Twitter @thewittyowl and on Facebook @authorkeridedeo.