Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Revising’ Category

Loving Writing, But What About Editing?

In Editing, Improving Your Work, Novel editing, Revising on October 8, 2017 at 5:00 pm


Editing is best done in several rounds.

In my personal work, I love to write—short stories, novels, poems, articles and, of course, blogs.

But I know, too, that part of writing is editing. I love editing the work of others, but when it comes to my own work, it’s mostly a chore. The first editing round isn’t so bad if I haven’t seen the manuscript for months, but by the 12th edit, I’m a bit sick of my work. So, how do I get over this?

First, I realize that a rough draft is rough and, for most writers, needs to be edited at the overall structural level for how the material is organized and then at the line level for the details. If I don’t edit, I have a messy manuscript stuck in a drawer or Word file.

Structural Editing

Structural editing looks at how the material or story is presented beginning to end and at what occurs in the middle. Are transitions used to seamlessly move from one idea to the next? Are the ideas fully developed with the right amount of detail presented? Is the manuscript readable, or does it feel choppy or go off on tangents? How do the ideas in the sentences flow to the next paragraph so that everything makes sense?

Additional edits help tighten up the writing, get rid of errors and fix any mechanical, syntax or grammatical issues at the line level.

The first two rounds may require one or more passes—typically one for blogs and articles, but short stories and novels often need more to tighten up the writing and balance action with character, so that everything in the storyline keeps moving at optimal pacing.

Three Rounds of Editing

Editing, to be most effective, needs at least three rounds: structural, line level and lastly, proofreading. Proofreading is a final pass to catch the errors not caught in the first and second read-through, since it’s impossible to see every single mistake in a solitary read.

Line level editing and proofreading require a careful, slow read, word by word, paying close attention to every aspect of the sentence, including what is inside it and the punctuation at the end.

Here are some other random things to look for while editing:

  • Identify areas that need more detail or to be cut because of overwriting.
  • Look for dropped ideas or elements that don’t carry through but should.
  • Make sure descriptions are consistent and accurate.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can and vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Look for repetitions in ideas or ways of expression.
  • Check facts, name spellings and any numbers that are used.

Lastly, make sure the content is to a specific audience in a specific voice and style. Consistency is the key to good, clear writing.

Freewriting First, Revision Second

In Freewriting, Revising, Writing on June 25, 2017 at 5:00 pm


Don’t get out the red pens until after the writing occurs to keep away the pesky internal editor.

Fast writing lets the words flow without worry and the internal editor.

With fast or freewriting, the idea is to not think about or plan your writing and instead to sink into your imagination. Express whatever is there in you, and then figure it out later. Realize, though, once there is written content, the words and language are containers for thoughts but aren’t always exact.

In other words, you can go back and revise. And revise again.

Simplicity or Complexity

Before revision can happen, you either start with simplicity or complexity.

With simplicity, one approach is speedwriting, writing as fast as you can, knowing the goal is to write as many words as possible within a certain timeframe. You write what comes to mind, getting rid of the internal editor, saving the planning and organizing of the content and the plotting of the story for a later step.

Or, you might start with complexity. You turn difficult, hard-to-grasp thoughts into lucid form, and then fit them into language that makes sense. Yo can make the writing clear and concise and expressive of what you intended through the revision process.

When I’m revising, I like to 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. I also think of the overall structure of the content or story, usually in the second edit. I probably should reverse the process, but I can’t get past the little errors before getting to the big picture.

Here’s a sample revision checklist of things to look for, such as:

  • Check for sentences that don’t make sense.
  • Omit needless words to get to the essential meaning or intention.
  • Notice consistency in verb tense.
  • Replace adjectives and adverbs with nouns and verbs.
  • Vary the sentence structure.
  • Identify areas where transitions are needed.
  • Avoid repetition of words, facts and details.

For my fiction writing, I try to spot any scene issues, like partial scenes, or scenes that are drawn out or are lacking detail. I ask if the overall story makes sense. Is there enough at stake in the plot? Are there any boring parts or parts that are over-explained? Are the characters well-developed and seem like real people, or are they flat with predictable traits?

Here are a few things to look for during additional edits:    

  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose or as a character trait.
  • Write visually and make sure some or all of the senses are used, including sight, sound, touch, hearing and taste.
  • Tighten the dialogue, cutting unnecessary conversation fillers like, “How are you doing?” and areas where conversation seems to repeat.

And most importantly, make sure you’re showing and only telling when necessary.

Top 10 Editing Tips

In Editing, Revising, Writing on March 5, 2017 at 11:00 am


Editing helps you get your (geese) ducks in a row!

I’ve learned to not mention red when I talk about editing.

No, it doesn’t have to do with blood—it has to do with the dreaded red pen used by teachers of the past to mark up student papers with ink.

I’ve adjusted my color wheel and now use blue ink, keeping my red pens hidden in a secret spot—OK, not so secret, since they are in a pencil holder with my other pens in red, black, blue, green and yes—purple!—ink.

If you noticed the topic of my blog, “Top 10 Editing Tips,” you’d see I need some editing work. If I were to follow the title and write properly, I’d edit out everything I’ve just written because I’m OFF TOPIC.

Last week, I mentioned how every writer I meet has their top tips for writing to provide discipline and inspiration. Not many writers go around talking about their top editing tips, because that’s not as fun or sexy. Editing is the hard work of the writing process, because it takes time and precision.

Lucky for me, I’m an editing nerd. I like, no actually LOVE, to fix sentences and paragraphs, looking at grammar, punctuation and mechanics and the entire document for the structure and intended messaging.

Here are a few of my 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.

And here are seven 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, work that’s incomplete, a thought that has an … after it. It needs that editing step, or a few rounds of making marks, to make it crisp, clear and concise. Each time you edit, you get closer to the core and essential components of what you want to say.

Revision: Heaven? Hell?

In Revising, Writing, Writing Processes, Writing Tips on June 26, 2016 at 11:00 am

Is revision heaven or hell?

I used to think it was hell, a form of sitting-in-front-of-the-computer torture, even though I knew it was part of the process of writing. I didn’t understand the writers who loved, liked or even tolerated that process.

And then I did the 12th or 13th—I’m not sure—revision on the young adult novel I finished a couple of years ago. Something clicked, and I began to enjoy what I read, fixed, edited, changed, added and cut. I’d set it aside for a few months, and instead of seeing it as lines to edit, I saw it as a story outside of myself.

I moved from subjective to slight objective as I evaluated my work. The “objectivity” resulted from taking on the imaginary perspective of the agent or editor, and not the writer, as I looked at and evaluated my work. I pretended I was a first-time reader.

I’ve learned that when it comes to revision, there are multiple approaches to take, such as starting from page one and reading to the end, looking for glaring errors in plot and character development, or focusing on different elements of the story, such as voice, character, plot, setting or theme, one at a time.

With either approach, here are some questions to ask:

  • Is the voice of the main character consistent; does it have enough depth; and does it show who that character is? Are there different voices and ways of talking among the different characters?
  • Does the plot make sense, or are there any holes or places to add in transitions? Do any of the characters get to place B without getting there physically? Are the characters acting consistently in the moment as they sit, stand, talk and gesture, so that they aren’t suddenly standing without a mention of the movement?
  • Do the main characters change from the beginning to the end of the novel? Do they get what they want? Is what they need different from what they want?
  • Is there a way to add a symbolic layer, such as carrying out an image throughout that has additional meaning to the characters or to the unfolding of the story?
  • Are there enough setting details to give a good picture without slowing the pace?
  • Are there cuts you can make of unnecessary details to tighten the writing, or scenes that aren’t necessary to carry the story forward?
  • Is the pace consistent with the action of the storyline, or does the story drag in places?
  • Are there repetitions in character thoughts, facts and description, making the reader wonder, “Did I already read that?”

There also are some line level edits to look for:

  • Get rid of as many “that’s,” “was/were’s” and adverbs and uses of the passive voice.
  • Remove word echoes, or the same words that appear too close together.
  • Look for missing periods, commas and quotation marks.
  • Look for compound words that have been divided and any misused/misspelled words.

Taking these steps, plus a few others, will help produce cleaner copy that will be even more entertaining to read the next time, because with each revision, there are fewer errors to interfere with the process. Revising a million times turns a work into something that becomes something to read and enjoy.

Conquering the sucky first draft

In Revising, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Processes on March 27, 2016 at 11:00 am

I love writing, and I love having written.

But when it comes to revising my writing, I kind of, sort of don’t have as much fun with the whole being a writer thing.

Revision takes work, discipline and hours of time—for me, more hours than the first draft when you get to sit and spill. You get to think, I’m a writer. I’m writing. But when you’re revising, it’s not as fun to run to your manuscript and think, I’m looking at you, you big unwieldy thing.

The first go around with the very rough, very messy draft, however, can be interesting. Sometimes.

It’s when I get to wonder what it was I actually created at the meta-level. I remember the overall story, but sometimes the details slip my mind. I turn into a reader albeit with my figurative big red pen (since I edit my first draft on the computer to save time on a ton of cutting and pasting and adding and rearranging).

As I read, I sometimes think, oh, I wrote that? And then the whole cumbersome process of looking at my manuscript seems kind of fun, because I like surprises. I like seeing I’ve accomplished something. And I like making my writing better.

Revision takes work and multiple drafts to get to clean, tight copy.

To revise, a writer can look at the overall writing elements individually, such as voice, dialog, setting, character and plot. Then, there’s the level of transition and flow, so that scenes are complete without holes, followed by grammar, sentence structure and missed periods, misplaced and misused words and misspellings Spell check didn’t catch.

Here are some questions to ask during the revision process:

Is the point of view consistent? Or, if there are several point of views, do the characters get their own space? (Changing point of view in the same paragraph is jarring for the reader.)

Is the voice the same for the main character, or does it show change, such as insecure to confident or angry to acceptance? How are words used to show voice?

Is there an inciting incident that sets the story in motion?

Are there holes in the plot? Are there dropped elements? Is there too much space or time spent on the beginning, middle or end? Does the middle sag? Does the end disappoint? And do the plot strings tie together by the end?

Do the characters have physical features, introduced the first time they appear in the story?

Does the dialog move the plot?

I find that by the time I’m sick of my 12th or 15th draft, my novel’s ready to go. I’ve read it so many times I’m not editing anymore but changing unnecessarily. That’s when it’s time to say, it’s my best.

It’s time for a new project and to market the current one.

Basically, it’s time to move on.


Submitting to literary agents

In Editing, Improving Your Work, Revising, Writing, Writing Processes on January 18, 2015 at 4:00 am

I use journals as a way to get into the writing and editing process.

I use journals as a way to get into the writing and editing process.

I find submitting my work to literary agents to be a scary process.

Earlier this week, I submitted my young adult novel, “The Money Finder,” to a literary agent I met last year at a writers’ conference (in March, so I kind of procrastinated), but she said to not submit your work until it’s ready.

For me, that meant editing for grammar, revising for plot, character, setting and story structure and running more than half of it through my writers’ group.

My writers’ group, the Mountain View Authors in northern Colorado, found several things to fix in “The Money Finder,” about a 15-year-old girl named Grace who faces a drunk mother, potential eviction and taking care of a younger sister, Star, as she tries to fix the family problems through money finding.

The group said I needed to watch out for my use of tenses, smooth out some of my descriptions and avoid overusing adverbs, repeating phrases and summarizing when scene is needed. They said I had good descriptions and imagery, good solid dialogue and a great voice for Grace.

Here are some of the other things the group said I needed to address:

  • Give information regarding the sisters’ ages and capabilities at the beginning of the story, so their maturity levels are understood from the get-go.
  • Get a better understanding of who Grace is; if she’s mostly a good girl, ask why she is cutting down her peers with snide inner thoughts. Ask why she shies away from conflict in school but not at home.
  • Give Grace a confidant, so she has someone to tell her problems to and to guide her through her facing homelessness.
  • Make Grace less whiney about her situation and more proactive, so that she’s acting instead of simply reacting to everything that happens to her. Ask how you want her to present herself to those around her.
  • Make the mother more of a real person by adding depth to her character, so she isn’t just a caricature of an alcoholic. Soften her a bit and show her vulnerability.
  • Think or ways to amp up the tension. Ask what’s at stake for Grace and Star.

I worked on editing the novel for a year, doing six or seven revisions. In the last revision, I found several logistical errors, such as the timing of Grace’s classes and the sequence of days Monday to Sunday, so that they actually occurred in order.

Combining the outside input from the input I received from the writers’ group, I was able to tighten my manuscript that much closer to publication ready.

Avoiding new writing projects

In Editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on September 14, 2014 at 11:00 am

Every time I finish a big writing or revision project, I feel lost, unanchored and unsure.

I recently fixed up my heart (re: Writing with a Broken Heart), but this time my heart rip is about re-finding that purpose in my writing life.

I get so caught up in the world of my story, whether it’s fresh writing or editing and re-editing an older piece, I don’t know how to let it go to clear the slate for new writing.

In other words, I get scared. I have a list of ideas for short stories and a couple for novels, but I haven’t started on any of them yet, because it’s easier to move forward from the middle place.

Starting at the beginning requires finding the story structure, figuring out character identity and doing a great deal of groundwork, plus writing that first sentence and the next one and the next one after that. I prefer continuing working on the same project, because it’s comfortable and what I’m used to, but comfort can be taken to the extreme in over revising.

With my latest revision of “The Money Finder,” a young adult novel about a 15-year-old who uses her money finding abilities to try to solve her family crisis, I fixed up a few paragraphs and sections of dialog that sounded just as good as before I put in the work.

For instance, I read a piece aloud to a group of friends that was unrevised from my latest editing session and changed a few of the sentences back to the original because I liked how they sounded out loud.

My revision (the fourth in six months) wasn’t a waste, though. I found areas in the manuscript where I had inconsistencies in character, setting and plot facts, errors in the timeline and logistics, and lack of transition or movement in the scene due to choppy or incomplete descriptions.

I added in sensory details, such as making sure that when one of my characters with a drinking problem drank too much that her speech patterns matched. I added more emotional response from my main character to the tragedies happening in her life when I had scene description but not her reactions. And I made the behavior of a seven-year-old more appropriate to her age both in her actions and conversations.

My latest revision showed me that a manuscript is ready to be put aside when the editing involves mostly reading, making only minor fixes and fixing sections only to change them back. I learned that revising can become a problem if it serves as an avoidance technique for starting new writing.

So, yes, now I have to face that Blank Page.

Tips for revising novels

In Editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Processes on August 24, 2014 at 11:00 am

I have been into novel revision lately, not because I love to read my work for the millionth time, but because I want to get everything publication ready.

The revision process takes a whole-view perspective and a line-by-line look at the work created. The whole view is looking at structure, including plot, character development, setting and dialogue, while the myopic view considers all the details.

When I revise, I tend to see what’s happening on the page clearly but, in the process, become nearsighted about the structure. I tend to get caught up at the sentence- and paragraph level.

Over the past week, I did a hard copy edit of my fifth novel, “The Money Finder,” a young adult book about a 15-year-old who tries to take on the responsibility of her falling-apart family by finding money in odd places.

Since June, I have been rotating between this book and my third book, a Christian fiction look at a Bible study gone wrong in “One April Day.” I edited the Christian fiction by reading it through twice, one after the next, focusing on the sentences, sections of text needing transitions and gaps in scenes.

I found a lot of overwriting, where I gave too much detail about how things looked and what happened in a scene to move a character from one point to the next, both physically and emotionally. I used metaphors or descriptions that, when I looked at them again, didn’t work because I couldn’t picture the image or the word usage was awkward. And I cut pieces of dialogue, scene descriptions and character reflections that seemed to repeat, so that my character wasn’t thinking the same thing over and over again and the storyline didn’t move forward.

I ended up cutting 35 1 ½-spaced pages and 10,300 words.

In “The Money Finder,” I only cut three pages and about a 1,000 words. That’s because I’m a more experienced writer – I wrote the young adult during the 2013 NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, and the Christian fiction in 2011.

In the young adult novel, I mostly did a line-by-line hard edit after doing a half-dozen edits on the screen. I found some inconsistencies in facts, such as giving the main character’s sister two different ages of seven and eight and changing the days of some of her classes.

I cut awkward descriptions, thoughts of the main character’s that repeated too much and details from scenes that made the action drag. In essence, I tightened the piece with little tweaks here and there.

Revising an old novel (for new fun)

In Novel editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on August 10, 2014 at 11:00 am

I thought revising a novel I finished three years ago would be easy, because I had already made it “perfect” over multiple drafts.

My novel, “One April Day”, is about a 35-year-old woman named Maggie Cooper who is laid off from a metro newspaper in 2008. She gets caught up in a Bible study gone wrong and a false prophecy that leads her astray from making her own decisions until she faces risking everything, including her comforts of a salary, a home, a church and friends.

My first revision took three weeks when I cut nearly 30 1 ½-spaced pages, or about 9,000 words. A beta reader told me the beginning dragged and needed tightening, so I cut some of my descriptions and play-by-play scenes that weren’t necessary, the result of overwriting.

I also cut a few word echoes, or the same word used in the same paragraph or even on the same page if it is a more unusual word. I noticed that I liked to use the word “look” for gaze, glance and stare, and so I did a word search to substitute half of my usage of that word.

Most of my editing involved tightening, plus some logistical fixes, because I had my plotline set according to the arc, with the beginning, rising action, middle, falling action and end. The character identities were strong, too, because I based them on real people or compilations as the story comes from a real-life occurrence, though many of the details have been changed.

After editing the book, I set it aside for one evening and started another revision, this time spending eight days on it. I wanted to make sure my edits read smoothly and that I hadn’t missed anything, but a hundred pages in, I realized I should have spread out the revisions. I was lazy in my editing, and the story didn’t seem “fresh,” because I had just read it.

Even so, I kept going, because I can’t not finish something I started.

In this revision, I changed styles from Associated Press, which I use as a journalist, to Oxford, meaning I had to write out numbers and use the serial comma in front of the word “and.” I had to remind myself to be on the lookout for the word as I read, so for the first few chapters, I used the Find function to search it out (a big pain) in case I missed the comma insert.

Once I finished the edit on Sunday, Aug. 3, I had 68,100 words and 247 pages. I had started with 78,400 words and 282 pages, so I cut 10,300 words (worthy of a prize given my clinginess to what I write, though to solve this, I dumped my darlings into a Cut file).

I had a Monday, Aug. 4, deadline for this revision to send to a family friend who has connections in the southern Bible belt, though this is just a Big Wish.

Normally when it comes to revising my work, I am the Excuse Queen. I work on everything else first, and then get to the editing, revising and fixer-upper work of the writing process.

Though revision involves writing, it isn’t the same because, at least for me, the writing part is limited: it only involves a scene, a few sentences or the entire novel where I’m fixing a factual, grammatical or other type of error in little spots here and there.

In other words, I write because I love it, and I revise because I want someone else to like what I write without stumbling over multiple errors.

Revision Dread

In Novel editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on June 2, 2014 at 11:00 am

Revision can be the writer’s least favorite part of the writing process, but it is what turns a sloppy first draft into something marketable.

Reading your work multiple times, asking friends and co-writers to give it an edit and bringing your work through a writer’s group are a few options to identify structural problems, address issues with any of the elements of your writing and find grammatical and style errors in the copy.

Currently, I’m editing my young adult novel, “The Money Finder.” I’ve taken the first 50 pages through my writer’s group, Mountain View Writers, and got comments on minor characters that were flat and clichéd, factual errors in the plot because I lacked the experience and hadn’t done enough research, and areas in the storytelling that needed to be cut, moved or added to keep readers engaged.

One of my friends, who has no desire to write but has read extensively, is reading through “One April Day,” which is literary Christian fiction. He said the beginning drags, reading too much like a journal entry of this happened and then this happened without an overarching reason for him to want to find out what will happen next.

From his experience, most books are awkward during the first 50 pages but get better after that. His theory is that the writers are trying to find their story without going back later to tighten the telling down to the most essential, basic elements.

To edit for the needs of an experienced reader who doesn’t write, give him an opening scene where something happens right away, without putting in too much setting, summary or backstory that causes that dragging effect.

When editing for this and other readers, I like to 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. I like to look for any scene issues, like partial scenes, or scenes that are drawn out or are lacking detail. I like to ask if the overall story make sense. Is there enough at stake in the plot? Are there any boring parts or parts that are over-explained?

Here are a few things to look for during additional edits, including:

• Looking for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
• Cutting unnecessary words, sentences and even scenes that do not move the story forward or clutter what you’re trying to say.
• Using the active voice whenever you can.
• Varying the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
• Getting rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose or as a character trait.
• Writing visually and making sure some or all of the senses are used, including sight, sound, touch, hearing and taste.
• Tightening the dialogue, cutting unnecessary conversation fillers like, “How are you doing?” and areas where conversation seems to repeat.
• Checking that the characters are well-developed and seem real, not two-dimensional?
And most importantly, make sure your showing and only telling when necessary.