Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Editing Advice’ Category

50 Tips for Writing and Editing (plus, a book for sale!)

In Editing Advice, Editing Tips, Writer's Block, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on June 22, 2020 at 11:00 am

The image appears on the cover of the soon-to-be-released “50 Tips for First-Time Authors.

Writing has a bit of mystique to it, since it’s something we all do, but it also has what I like to call the Gold Star Effect.

Writing is essential to work, life and business, but …

What Exactly is Good Writing?

Good writing tells a story, inspires change and is layered in purpose and in meaning, causing readers to ponder, think and act.

Good writing is structurally sound with clear, concise content and, if fiction, a fully fleshed-out story.

Good writing also looks impeccable on the page, free of errors in grammar, mechanics, syntax, punctuation and spelling.

But to get that place of good writing, or the Gold Star Effect, work is involved, along with discipline, motivation, practice and, of course, revision.

I’ve been writing professionally for more than 20 years, first as a journalist, then as a freelance writer and editor, but also as an aspiring author. I have plans to self-publish two novels and am trying to get agents for two other novels. I also have two I shelved, because they just didn’t work out.

50 Tips for First-Time Authors

Through all of this writing work and experience, I’ve gathered my top tips for writing, editing and doing the work of both.

I share my tips in “50 Tips for First-Time Authors: Learn the Secrets of Writing for Publication,” which will be published on Kindle and in print on Lucky 7/7, or July 7, 2020.

In my booklet, I cover tips for getting started writing, what’s involved in the writing process, the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction, and editing best practices, plus ways to avoid the dreaded writer’s block. I wrap up with a dozen reasons for loving writing.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

A writing list is a great way to get motivated and stay on task, turning a desire to write into the action of writing.

It provides a few rules to live by that make writing a routine and, over time, a habit without too much planning, thinking or agonizing about it.

It’s a way to show up for the writing, finding that once you get started, you have something to say, a short story to write in a sitting or two, or descriptions and storylines to add to a work in progress.

To find even more tips, visit Amazon for a pre-order to have the book ready to go on Lucky 7/7.

Thanks for checking out years of tips made concise in nine chapters. These tips have the Gold Star Effect in that they rose to the top from the hundreds of tips I’ve learned and collected!

(Note: I must admit the idea of self-publishing seemed intimidating, so I attended webinars, workshops and seminars and read two books on the subject. Two particularly useful tools are Gundi Gabrielle’s “Kindle Bestseller Publishing: Publish a Bestseller in the Next 30 Days!!” and Richard N. Williams’ “Self Publish Your Novel Made Easy.”)

Editing as Torture (it can happen, even for editors!)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Self-Editing, Writing, Writing Advice on June 14, 2020 at 11:00 am

Editing is like getting rid of weeds in a field. Even beautiful sentences like the puff of seeds pictured here need to be cut if they do not belong in the story.

Editing for editors on occasion can be torture—not when it’s someone else’s work but when it’s your own.

Why? The work seems ready when it’s written and edited a few times, but really it isn’t. What it may need is content and developmental editing in the case of fiction, or editing for major elements like pacing and tension, character and plot arcs, and setting, atmosphere, world building, dialog and repetition in scenic elements and description.

Or if it’s nonfiction or an article, the content may not be well organized, go off topic or lack transitions.

I’m editing a novel I wrote 15 years ago, “A Bar Girl’s Starry Nights,” about a cocktail waitress and an older gentleman who become friends and help each go through the Twelve Steps. I’d set it aside and wrote other books, thinking, “Oh, it’s cute. It’s my first one.”

I want to self-publish, but I’m close to having my two key projects getting agents (but not quite yet!), so I went back to it and saw I’d made many of the mistakes I’d learned to avoid or fix after the fact.

Being “Objective” in Self-Editing

It had taken experience and working as an editor to be able to be a somewhat objective editor of my own work. I read it like a reader and had forgotten what had happened and while editing, pretended it was written by someone else. I could do that, because I wrote it a long time ago, though I still will need an editor, because as many editors say, you cannot edit your own work and catch all the mistakes.

One fellow editor said some writers are pretty good at editing their own work. They can edit in steps, separating out the different elements, such as editing for pacing, marking the areas where they stop paying attention or want more detail. They can work with beta readers and writers groups to get even more feedback for revision.

While editing my novel, I saw that the first five chapters were back story with a tiny bit of plot, and I thought, this is horrible! I cut 6,800 words in the first 50 pages and first nine chapters. I wondered if I should stop, but then I thought about all the bad books I read because I have a problem with quitting. So I read.

Identifying Major Problems

I saw other problems, including a prelude that looked like I came from the Victorian era. I tried to emulate Ernest Hemingway and Charles Bukowski, just coming off of my English major high. I had two main characters, but then thought it would be clever to include 30 pages telling the story of a third character—so I removed his point-of-view chapters to turn into a short story companion piece. I over described a few things. I repeated scenic elements and plot points. I overwrote. I had too much dialog, even the silly things like “Yeah, okay.”

My first impression is this lacks tension, the characters are unlikeable, and the plot is incredibly boring. I even had a character get full description and not mean anything to the plot but only appear in one scene.

Looking Forward to Editing

But then I got to the middle and started looking forward to editing. And by the end, I’d gotten teary-eyed, feeling the big “oh no!” for one of the main characters. I realized, yes, I have something to work with. It will need a few more editing rounds, especially if I want to consider it a novel instead of a novella.

It started at 65,200 words (barely the length of a novel, starting at 50,000 or 60,000 words, depending on the source) and now is a novella at 49,200 words (a novella is about 20,000 to 50,000 words). We’ll see what happens.

Now I’m having fun with the project, because I’m acting as an editor, something all writers need. But then I’ll turn it over to an editor for that final polish.

From Crappy to Great Writing (a sample of the difference editing makes)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on May 3, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Do you ever read a book and wish you could take out your red pens and start marking up all the errors? I did just that with one page from a self-published book on self-publishing.

 

Sometimes writers just want to get their book out and start earning money, and readers love the content.

But readers who notice grammar, mechanics and the like will get caught up in the errors. And if there are too many of them, the writer loses authority. Especially if the writer is self-published.

Writers planning to self-publish or find an agent are advised to hire an editor to not only fix the errors, but to notice things that we, as writers, skip over knowing what we’ve written and believing it all makes sense.

Errors on the Page

I just read a great book about self-publishing, because I’m planning to put a couple of my books on the market. The content of “Kindle Bestseller Publishing: The Proven 4-Week Formula to go from Zero to Bestseller as a first-time Author!,” by Gundi Gabrielle, is great, and I got the tools I need, including how to launch a new book, get great reviews and please Amazon to get even more readers. I learned the steps of submitting a book on Kindle Direct Publishing and what to expect along the way.

In other words, I give this book a great review, because the content is well-organized without over explaining or skipping over anything. But I just got a little tripped up on the grammatical errors—the writer said to hire an editor as part of the self-publishing path, but maybe her editor focused on overall content and not the details.

A Before and After Sample

Here’s a sample of before and after of what good editing can bring to the page (also see above):

BEFORE: Don’t forget to add your book link to the “Review Request” page in the Kindle version and then upload/ publish again.

You will probably have to re-upload your book a few times before launch day, because there are usually corrections, additions, links not working, etc.

Also, add the book link to your website and add reviews as they come in.

Keep building buzz on all your social media, friends, family, colleagues, mailing list, forums, Facebook groups, Reddit threads, Goodreads. Anywhere you can possibly mention your book—Do it!—And spread the excitement!!

You can also add a press release, schedule interviews with relevant newspapers, blogs, podcasts, and local TV stations. Whatever can help spread the word about your book. Guest posts during launch week can also be very powerful as are daily short excerpts on Facebook to let people take part in your bestseller journey.

AFTER: Don’t forget to add your book link to the “Review Request” page in the Kindle version and then upload/ publish it again.

You will probably have to re-upload your book a few times before launch day, because there are usually corrections, additions, and links not working, etc.

Also, add the book link to your website and add reviews as they come in.

Keep building buzz on all of your social media accounts; with friends, family, and colleagues; on your mailing list and forums; in your Facebook groups; in your Reddit threads; and on Goodreads. Anywhere you can possibly mention your book—do it!—and spread the excitement!

You can also add a press release and schedule interviews with relevant newspapers, blogs, podcasts, and local TV stations. (Or it can read as: You can also add a press release, schedule interviews with relevant newspapers, post blogs, upload podcasts, and make appearances on local TV stations.) Whatever can help spread the word about your book. Guest posts during launch week also can be very powerful as well as daily short excerpts on Facebook to let people take part in your bestseller journey.

Great Sentence Structure

The main issue with this page is that the verb tenses and nouns do not align and are inconsistent in the lists presented in the last two paragraphs. Also, one exclamation mark suffices. Otherwise, the writer looks like they are in high school, doing things like putting hearts in place of the dots over the letter “i.” However, the content here is well-informed and obviously well-researched. It just needs a tweak or two.

Why Good Writing Still Matters (and crappy writing loses readers)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on April 19, 2020 at 11:00 am

DucksWinter2 12-2019

Achieving good writing is easier than trying to line up ducks on a snowy, winter day. And here in Colorado, winter extends into spring!

I started reading an article about a topic where I had the opposite opinion of the writer, and after slogging through the first paragraph, I figured I’d get the message in the second paragraph.

Quite frankly, I wanted to learn something and maybe even change my opinion or alter it in some way, since I try to be open-minded.

Stopping in the Middle

I skimmed to the halfway point, then stopped reading, because the writer never got to the point. I’m busy, even stuck indoors during the stay-at-home executive order for the state of Colorado (and other states). I just don’t have the patience for poorly written content—and I’m not alone.

In our fast-paced, fake news, article- and blog-heavy society, we don’t spend the time reading as if studying for a final or needing to absorb the content. It’s click and move on.

Achieving Good Writing

Good writing needs to get to the point right away (this excludes fiction and poetry that’s more about atmosphere and storytelling with the time and space to build plot, character and description). It needs to make apparent the theme or main topic of the subject, covering what you want to say in one to three sentences.

Good writing has a lead in, just like a news article, with a short story or a compelling detail that peaks interest. The reader wants to learn more and reads the second paragraph, or in journalism speak, the graf.

Good writing also has structure, moving from one point to the next with enough details supporting each point but not overly describing or going off on a tangent, or off topic—this loses the reader.

And good writing has transitions, so that paragraphs flow from one to the next.

Losing Bad Writing

The article that annoyed me is lost. I won’t find it again, nor did I get the writer’s intended message, because I clicked and moved on. Good writing that flows moves the writer from point to point, keeping the reader within the text. The reader stays until the end. Start to finish, that’s what you want in article absorption.

Getting a Book Vision: Brand Editing

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing Tips, Fort Collins Startup Week, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on March 15, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Loveland, Colo., author Harrison Hand signs a copy of one of his books. He spoke about self-publishing and editing during Fort Collins Startup Week in February 2020.

Do writers need editors? Yes. Do they need a brand? Probably. Do they need a why? Most definitely.

When writers start writing, they typically plan out the plot of their book or start with a character or two or a world-building premise. Or they jump right into the writing without a plan. The two types are plotters vs. pantsers.

The Why of Writing

But what about the why of writing? Why do you care about the characters? Why do they care about the story? Why should readers care?

These “why” questions are just a start. They also have to tie into the journalist Ws of who and what, or who are you as a writer and what you want to produce. The Ws are important for the business side of writing, or the branding and marketing of a book or series.

“What is your reason for writing your book? Why should the audience listen to the author?” said Harrison Hand, author or the Skyler Tortuga series, including the latest release, “Secrets of the Dragonfly Dancer,” and owner or The Harrison Hand Studio in Loveland, Colo.

The How of Publishing

Hand spoke about The Why during his one-hour presentation about self-publishing, “How to Publish Your Book for Under $100,” which he gave Feb. 24 during Fort Collins Startup Week in Fort Collins, Colo.

“You are your brand,” Hand said, explaining that building a brand about who you are as a writer and what you create is key to marketing. “Be sure to establish your voice, owning your words and owning your place in creating.”

Voice is part of that branding, alongside the books the writer creates, Hand said.

“The audience cares about both the creator and the creations,” Hand said, explaining that the audience wants to connect with the creator. “Marketing starts with the why; that’s how you connect with people. Why do you have this voice?”

The What of Finding Voice

Writers need to find their own voice, Hand said. He looks at writing differently than many other writers, where he is breaking the rules. He says it the way he wants to say it, he said. He advised once the writing (and hopefully editing) is finished to tie the book to something.

Hand’s Skyler Tortuga series is about bullying, and he wants to empower the next generation of readers to believe in themselves, where young female heroines learn that they can complete themselves without needing a romantic figure. He conducted a heroic reader crowd funding campaign, handing out paid copies of his books to children who are readers—his target is third- to sixth-graders.

Hand found a way to not need an editor by working with early readers, getting feedback and doing his own editing. He recommended jumping into the self-publishing arena before slogging about looking for an agent.

Where to Start

“Start publishing other stuff, get a following, create some buzz and credibility, and then it’s easier to find an agent for your great American novel,” Hand said. “They let the audience determine what’s interesting.”

Writers need to get the branding and marketing in place, or they might get noticed by an agent, but either way, knowing The Why is crucial to finding, keeping and growing voice, style and story.

Are Editors (Really) Necessary?

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Fort Collins Startup Week, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on March 1, 2020 at 8:39 pm

Notebook2

Do writers need to hire an editor to bring out the red pen? Or is better to get a self-published book out to market?

Do writers really need editors? Do they really want all that red ink and those corrections?

A self-published author I encountered at a class on self-publishing during Fort Collins Startup Week said he would never hire an editor. He said in his presentation to an audience of about 25 aspiring authors that he had several readers of his first story and got feedback and was able to publish his book for under $25 (now it’s about $125 with the cost of an ISBN). He also said he was able to make a profit right away.

Editing and Voice

I believe he has a point, but also hiring an editor gives that professional outside perspective to both improve the writing but also the storytelling.

The author said he does his own editing and artwork and looks at writing differently, where he is breaking the rules. He says it the way he wants to say it.

“Writers need to find their own voice,” he said.

I held up my hand and explained how I had good and bad experiences with editors. As a journalist, I worked with editors who changed my lead and my voice, inserting in their own voice, and that I did not consider them to be good editors. I reflected on “the importance of not changing the voice of the author as you are editing a manuscript.”

I also mentioned that editing happens at several levels from structural, or the overall content looking at things like flow and transitions, to the line level, or reading each line for errors in grammar, spelling and mechanics, plus things like word echoes. Both are important.

Why Hire an Editor?

Here are a few other reasons why hiring an editor can be a good idea:

  • Editors are trained to notice the small errors readers may detect but that are hard to find if you aren’t looking for them, such as a comma where there should be a period or the ’re words, such as they’re and you’re vs. their/there and your.
  • Editors memorize style guides and know how to look up things and which sources to use.
  • Editors understand grammar down to the fine details (I see it like the Periodic Table of Elements combined with a dictionary with the rules clearly visible and meaningful).
  • Editors are keen readers. Their minds are constantly editing all day long (which also can be annoying, since it’s a game but also makes reading more chore-like).
  • Editors understand voice and how word choice effects the sound and meaning of language, plus they know how to turn analytic writing into something that’s more conversational or vice versa.

Why Self-Publish?

Lastly, to bring on an editor is a choice. What’s more important is that writers write and look at their creations as something worthy of publishing. It can be a solo project, or there can be a team that includes a graphic designer for the cover and internal layout, an illustrator for the images and, of course, the editor to perfect the overall content.

It’s an investment to hire an editor or any other professional, and as the author/speaker mentioned, it’s more important to get the work out in front of an audience. The audience is the reader, and sometimes they want the story. Now!

Fast and Fun Tips for Editing

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing Tips, Top Editing Tips on February 23, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Editing smooths out the beauty of writing so that what’s ordinary, like this table, becomes even better, such as with the ice pattern on top.

Editing is not easy, and for many, it’s not exactly fun.

It’s never a one-time thing either and often requires a couple of read-throughs. To be the most effective, editing needs at least three rounds: structural, line and proofreading.

Structural

Look through the entire document for the overall structure, or how the information is put together and presented to the reader. Make sure everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.

Line Level

Check for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics; words that are missing or misused; and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy.

Proofreading

Give a final pass to catch the errors not caught in the first analysis and second read-through, since it’s impossible to see every single mistake in a solitary read. This requires a careful, slow read word by word.

As you edit, there are several things to think about.

The Fast and Fun Tips*:

  • Cut the long sentences and use varied sentence lengths and structures; plus, mix in short and long paragraphs.
  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say. This will get you to the essential meaning or intention of what you want to say.
  • Check for sentences that don’t make sense or are too technical or heavy in ideas.
  • Avoid repetition of words, facts and details.
  • Opt for the active voice over the passive voice. For example, say, “The dog ran after the cat,” instead of “The cat was chased by the dog.”
  • Keep verb tenses the same, especially within a sentence.
  • Replace adjectives and adverbs with nouns and verbs.
  • Avoid clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they serve as space fillers.

Lastly:

If looking at sentences or paragraphs is boring to you, hire an editor! Your writing will improve tenfold, and it will be clear, clean and concise. It’s worth the investment of effort, time and resources.

*I provided a series of articles on fast and fun tips, but didn’t get this last one in—I was sidetracked by the holidays and my New Year top tips.

Top 7 Editing Tips for 2020

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Top Editing Tips on January 26, 2020 at 11:00 am

GeeseWinter3 12-2019

Editing is a great way to get your geese in a row, such as the geese walking across the ice at the Foote Lagoon in Loveland, Colo.

Good writing only can go so far if there are errors in it—reading it is more difficult, and it’s hard to get the message if attention gets caught on a misplaced comma or a wrong word choice.

That’s where the chore of editing comes in, though it  takes time, precision and repetition.

Editing is best done on multiple levels and in several rounds to be the most effective. That’s because not every error can be caught in a single pass, since there are several things to pay attention to all at once.

What Editing Involves

Editing involves a close read and making large and small-scale changes to the look of the text. The changes are made at the line level, or each line of text, and at the structural level for the overall content with proofreading providing a final review of everything.

At the line level, editing involves fixing sentences and paragraphs for errors in grammar, syntax and mechanics, as well as spelling and punctuation. At the structural level, editing looks at the entire document for organization, structure and intended messaging, as well as transitions, adherence to the main topic and flow from one idea to the next.

To edit in layers, do a first read through for errors in spelling and grammar, words that are missing or misused, and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy. Then ask if there are missing details or areas that need to be cut that give too much description or information. Edit the overall structure to determine if everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.

Top 7 Editing Tips

  • Determine if there are boring parts or parts that are over-explained.
  • Look for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of any inconsistencies in how things are stated and look for any elements that don’t carry through, such as a dropped idea or an incomplete example of the main topic.
  • Vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Get rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they demonstrate a lack of creativity.

One Final Thought

Editing moves a rough draft into a polished product that people will want to read. It gets rid of errors and unnecessary words and descriptions to get to the core or heart of the message.

 

The Best Editing Checklist

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips on February 3, 2019 at 6:00 pm

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Editing is best done in layers to achieve clean and great copy.

Editing isn’t a quick fix of reading over an article, story or novel, making a couple of changes and hitting Publish.

It takes at least a couple of rounds of evaluating the overall content, checking for transitions and gaps in flow, and fixing paragraphs and sentences. It takes looking at the whole and the individual lines to make sure the result is a clean, easy read.

With my own work, I used to edit randomly, reading the text from start to finish over and over, but I found editing involves multiple layers of analysis. My original approach was time consuming and I missed things both at the line level (I’d reread the same things) and in the structure of the beginning, middle and end.

Simplifying the Editing Process

To make the process easier, I compiled an editing checklist to make sure I address the levels of editing, while also breaking the task into smaller parts so it doesn’t seem overwhelming and tiresome. After going through the list, the task is completed, and it’s time to do some more writing.

Editing can be done in any order, but it is best to include a read-through for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics; words that are missing or misused; and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy.

As you edit, ask if there are missing details or areas to be cut that give too much detail or repeat. Also review the entire document for structure, consistency in approach (using the same types of bullets for example) and intended messaging. Make sure everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.

While editing through the various layers, there are more specific things to check, and here is where the editing checklist is great to have on hand.

7 Things to Look for While Editing

  • Determine if there are boring parts or parts that are over-explained.
  • Look for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of inconsistencies in how things are stated and look for any elements that don’t carry through, such as a dropped idea or an incomplete example of the main topic.
  • Vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Avoid clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they serve as space fillers.

Writing without editing is a rough draft and work that is incomplete. Editing helps get the writing to the core and essential components of what you want to say.

Top 10 Tips for Editing

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing Tips, Writing Tips on January 21, 2018 at 6:00 pm

GeeseSummer1 2016

Editing is a way to get your “geese in a row.”

Editing is the hard part of writing—it’s not as sexy or as fun, unless you love fixing sentences, repairing paragraphs and restructuring the content.

There are many approaches to editing from looking at each line of the test to the flow of the overall story, blog or article. Editing can be as involved as the writing process, because it takes time and precision to find errors and make large-scale adjustments.

When I write novels, I do six or more editing rounds that take hours of work, whereas the writing is spilling out the story, trying not to think too hard about the sentences—I’ll get stuck if I do. Editing articles is quicker—usually they get two to three rounds to find those errors and check for flow, transitions and overall meaning.

In a general sense, editing involves anything from fixing sentences and paragraphs to looking at grammar, punctuation and mechanics and the entire document for the structure and intended messaging.

Top 3 Editing Rules:

  • Editing once isn’t enough—editing takes several reads to catch errors, because not every error can be noticed the first time around.
  • Editing is best done by at least two people, bringing more perspectives to the project and additional ways to find or notice the mistakes.
  • Editing is best in layers. Do a first read-through for errors in spelling and grammar, words that are missing or misused, and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy. Then ask if there are missing details or areas to be cut that give too much detail or repeat. Edit the overall structure to determine if everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.

7 Things to Look for While Editing:

  • Determine if there are boring parts or parts that are over-explained.
  • Look for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of any inconsistencies in how things are stated and look for any elements that don’t carry through, such as a dropped idea or an incomplete example of the main topic.
  • Vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Get rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they demonstrate a lack of creativity.

Writing without editing is a rough draft and work that is incomplete. Editing helps get the writing to the core and essential components of what you want to say.