Knowing When To Fold ‘Em

Before I get started this week I wanted to provide you with a couple of links to really helpful articles. Please read them. They outline important points.

Here is an article about ten steps to a better story.

It is from The Blood Red Pencil.

I also have another link for you to read about writer’s voice from Rachelle Gardner who is a literary agent. Don’t miss this one.

Last week I spoke about how it’s never too late to get published and the importance of persistence and not giving up. It is important to adopt that philosophy as a writer. It is equally vital, however, to know when to give up on a piece that just isn’t working, that may never work.

The truth is that writing is very much like a game of poker. Sometimes the cards (and the words) just don’t fall the way you wish they would. It is crucial to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.

That is why you have to learn how to edit your work.

Editing, particularly self-editing, is the only way you can learn to assess the worth of your work. However, before you do any editing at all the number one thing to do is to focus on the narrative. Get all of your ideas out. Get the story moving along. Do not edit as you go, it will interrupt your narrative flow. You can correct things and change things afterwards.

I have compiled a few tips to help you with the editing process. Before you start editing give yourself a bit of time off. This will allow your story to settle both on the page and in your mind. It will give you clarity. Standing back, even just for one day, is a beneficial step.

So here we go:

1. Read the entire story, poem, play, novel from start to finish without attempting to correct anything. Allow yourself to act as a reader. This step will give you an idea regarding the flow of your work and whether or not you are conveying what you intended to. Most importantly, it will allow you to discover if your work is engaging, if you want to keep reading.

2. BAD HABITS. I have put this step in capitals because it is something most writers are guilty of – sloppy, lazy habits that detract from the quality of the writing. Be aware of your bad habits. Things like poor spelling, too many adverbs, sentences that run on for too long. You know what you are guilty of doing. Put yourself into bad habit rehab right now.

3. Proofread. Look for mistakes with grammar, spelling and so on. Also focus on word choice. Are you using the same word over and over? Are you using too many words to describe something? Less is definitely more when it comes to word choice.

4. Read your work aloud. I cannot stress the importance of this point enough. Reading aloud highlights tone, rhythm, whether or not dialogue works. You may feel silly doing it but it will help and it will bring to light problems you might otherwise miss.

5. Avoid a lot of backstory. This is a problem most writers grapple with. You know your characters intimately. Their motivations, their inner workings, their history, their background. Conveying what you know about your characters to your readers is an art in itself. It is important to avoid large treatises on the ideology of your characters. It is tedious to read and detracts from the narrative. It is better to weave the fabric of who they are into the story. This allows the reader to discover the characters for themselves rather than be told about them by you. Mastering backstory is very difficult. Don’t be put off if you don’t get it straight away. It will come with practice.

6. Learn the technique of  SHOW, DON’T TELL.  This ties in with backstory. Show your readers the important subtext of your stories, through actions, dialogue, and so on.  Don’t just tell them about it. This is the premium skill you need as a writer or an editor.

Telling could also be described as narrative summary, a secondhand report, almost like a journalist covering an incident.

Showing is an immediate scene where the reader watches events unfold, where he or she is part of the action. It allows the reader to become engaged, to be drawn into the world you have created.

Here is an example for you.

TELLING Lulu was depressed.

SHOWINGLulu, subdued and white-faced, sat at the dinner table saying nothing as laughter rose around her. She picked at her food, her napkin was in tatters. Her hands were shaking slightly. Not even Gordon’s silly song written especially for her birthday could make her smile.

7. Get another reader. Enlist the help of a trusted friend. Join a writing group. Blog. Get your work read. It is always handy to get another person’s opinion.

Hope these tips help you.

If anyone has any other tips they find useful when editing I would love to hear about them.

Let’s work together to improve our writing.


About Selma

Still dreaming, still hoping, still trying to pronounce incontrovertible. Writes stories the way Evel Knievel jumps canyons - without a net.
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11 Responses to Knowing When To Fold ‘Em

  1. Pingback: Jolly Pots Of Colour « Selma In The City

  2. Geraldine says:

    I am adding this blog to my blogroll writer resources TODAY. Excellent advice here Sel. I will read over everything as soon as time permits. Hugs to you and Karen, G


  3. Lua says:

    I’m currently revising my novel and this was heaven sent!
    Thank you so much Selma- great advice and links 🙂


  4. aine says:

    When did you start this? Fabulous post! I think I need to print these out and stick them above my computer… the “habits” one makes me cringe. Me and my modified nouns! *SIGH*


  5. Selma says:

    Thanks so much. my aim is to get everyone writing and editing and above all SUBMITTING. Our work won’t publish itself. If we support one another we might just get there!

    Hi LUA:
    I am thrilled to have helped. Revision is hard work but I know you can do it, Lua!

    Hi AINE:
    I have only been writing seriously on this blog for a few weeks, but I did write a few things here and there a while ago. It’s really only in the fledgling stages but Karen and I would like it to become a handy resource and support network for all the writers out there!


  6. Iain Hall says:

    I very much remember the advice of Stephen King in his book about writing and the Horror genre horror Genre (The Danse Macarbre) where he said that anyone who wants to write should write something everyday even if they eventually throw all that they write into the bin because it is only by doing that any of us can build and hone our skills with words.
    You are right though that keeping it simple and clear is the way to go and that is why I like the writing of Orwell because if ever there is an example of clear concise writing it is to be found in his prose.


  7. Geraldine says:

    PS: Forgot to thank you for including me on your blog post fav list, over at SITC, I’m honored.

    I still think Writer’s Digest is a good resource site for writers for the most part. I continue to find a lot of valuable articles there. Now, to just find the time to read them all. Thanks for starting this blog Sel, I think it’s great and it’s further encouragement for all of us. We all need to support each other’s work, especially on the blaaah days that can keep us from being at our creative best.


  8. Tam says:

    I’m just a reader but this is excellent advise. Thank you Selma.


  9. Selma says:

    Hi IAIN:
    Orwell is one of my most favourite writers. I have a book of his essays that are just exquisite. I don’t think people appreciate him as much as they should anymore, but in my opinion, he is one of the greatest writers ever. I appreciate you stopping by here.

    My pleasure. That poem was one of your best. You’re right about Writer’s Digest. A very good resource.

    Hi TAM:
    The readers are the most important people of all. After all, what good is a writer without a reader? 😀


  10. Ms. Karen says:

    Thank you for such an awesome piece, Selma! I’m in the midst of attempting to edit a manuscript, and I find myself struggling with so many bad habits, over-used words, and sloppy sentence structure. It makes editing harder when there is so much to fix and change. Sometimes I think it would be easier to just dump the whole mess and start over!

    Reading aloud is one of my favorite tools to use, as is handing the mess off to a reader or writer to help me see what I’ve missed (and I’ve usually missed quite a lot, too!)


  11. Selma says:

    Hi KAREN:
    Bad habits are the bane of all of us. I have so many it has become hard to differentiate the good from the bad. Glad to hear you’re editing. Hope it goes well 😀


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