Last Sunday I gave a workshop on "Polishing Your Prose: Practical Editing and Revision Tips" to about 25 members of the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild.
Thank you, Lori and the CCMWG board, for inviting me to come speak. Also, thanks, Eva, for taking photos.
My focus for the workshop was on rewriting and editing. Here are some highlights of what I covered:
* Writing is a process of discovery.
* During prewriting and writing, the focus is on the writer.
* This is when writers brainstorm and come up with ideas and get their ideas down on paper.
* Tip: Organize your notes, write without editing, and save everything.
* "Write about what interests you." That was Daniel Woodrell's suggestion during a book talk I attended last month at the St. Charles Community College.
* Revision is the process of re-vision; to see again by taking a fresh look at what you've written. (More about clarity of vision below.)
* Rewriting, editing, and proofreading are part of the revision process.
* During revision, editing, and proofreading, the focus is on the reader.
* In an interview, the late Elmore Leonard said, "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."
* In On Writing, Steven King recommended: "Write with the door closed; rewrite with the door open."
* Other revision and editing tips:
Don't do final edits on the computer screen
Print out a copy
Read the copy out loud
Read it backwards to catch mistakes
Always give your work a title (more on this below)
Don't give too much information too soon
Use vivid writing and specific, concrete language
Make good use of white space
Avoid lengthy paragraphs
Put statements in a positive form
Eliminate needless words
Place emphatic words at the end of the sentence
Place yourself in the background
Write in a way that comes naturally
Avoid foreign language
Always keep the reader in mind
At the end of the workshop, participants completed an exercise to edit sentences and eliminate needless words. They also took a for-fun mini-quiz. To emphasize the importance of titles, I gave them the original title of ten famous novels and asked them to guess the novels' better known titles. The CCMWG writers know their stuff--they got almost all ten right.
Here are a few of the before-and-after titles:
Atticus was changed to To Kill a Mockingbird
First Impressions became Pride and Prejudice
The Last Man in Europe is better known as 1984
When the topic of clear vision and focus comes to mind, I think about how eagles take a long view then zoom in and focus.
How timely that on Monday, the day after my talk, my grandson spotted an eagle soaring above our place in Osage County, along the Gasconade River.
I grabbed my camera and took this photo to capture the moment. Don't you wish you had his clarity of purpose and clear vision?
How about you? Do you have any revision or editing tips?