Purge Your Prose


Over the last few weeks I’ve read a few articles and noticed multiple angst ridden tweets regarding poorly edited writing.  Back in January I even wrote a diatribe about a book that, at its core, had a pretty good story, but was an editing disaster.  As a writer I am attached to the words I write. I also make a lot of mistakes.  There are times when every word I’ve written seems essential. Cutting an entire scene or even a couple of words sometimes feels akin to severing a limb.  You just don’t want to do it.  But the reader doesn’t care about our bloody severed limbs.  The reader wants to read crisp clean prose that makes them forget they’re reading.

I can relate, because I am not just a writer, but a reader as well.  I will dump a book in a heartbeat if the editing is shoddy.  Poor editing disturbs my concentration and detracts from the flow of the story.  I can forgive a few errors, but if I find myself editing the text as I read, then I’m likely to stop.

Personally, I’ve managed, at least in part, to overcome my attachment to every word I’ve put down on paper.  Now, cutting words and revising phrases feels like spring cleaning, during which I sweep away the dust and what’s left behind is hopefully a bright shining gem.

I’ve come upon a cool little online program designed to help with this task.  Editminion is a program created by dr. wicked of Write Or Die.  It doesn’t perform the miracle of purging your work of the weight of excess verbiage.  That’s a job you will have to do all on your own.  That said, Editminion will tell you if you’ve used a passive voice, too many adverbs, or weak sentences.  I use Editminion after I’ve edited as a final once over, a buff and shine.

What do you do to purge your prose?

  • Editminion sounds a lot like the online editing software Autocrit.com. Programs like that are becoming really powerful and more and more useful.

    I am lucky to have some very literate friends who can provide both developmental and copy editing. But I like to have everything as spit and polish as possible before sending it to them. 🙂

    I completely agree that readers are the keepers of language. People often forget that language is always evoloving, that it’s supposed to evolve. I picked up an old copy of The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbitt a few months ago and discovered, to my surprise, that there were no quotation marks around any of the dialogue! They didn’t used to use them. Now they’re considered indispensable.

  • I really hate to embarrass anyone but there’s a lesson to be learned here. The first comment in response to this blog posting, wherein “your’s” is seen, is instructive.

    My wife frequently draws my attention to book reviews posted in Amazon by readers, that exhibit an appalling lack of grammatical skill and berate the author for theirs. It is tempting to conclude that grammar is no longer significant if the readers no longer have the ability to appreciate its correct application. I will not succumb to that temptation.

    I believe that legitimate writers are the “keepers” of the language arts and must strive to protect grammar, spelling, usage, etc. The plethora of poorly edited books may just be a sign of the times – too many unemployed workers desperately seeking some source of income, even authoring books to make a living. Is it possible then that the quality of books will rise when we work our way back to prosperity? I hope so.

    • Thank you for visiting and commenting.
      The comment you are referencing “your’s” is actually mine. The fact that you pointed it out was, well… embarrassing, although you say you really hated to do it. You did.
      I agree that there is a certain standard that should be upheld, not so much as “keepers” of the language arts or as protectors, but for the sake of our readers who deserve the very best from us. Usage and other aspects of writing change over the course of time, and some rules are outright broken, therefore It is my opinion that the true keepers of the language are our readers. They tell us what is acceptable, by deciding whether or not to support our efforts.
      What constitutes a legitimate writer is, I believe, debatable. I believe that one who writes for the love of the craft/words is a writer, and just as legitimate as the next person. Certainly, with the growing indie writing movement, there is a ton of substandard writing being published. That said, relegating “legitimate” authorship to the select few, (who does the selecting?) is stuffy and exclusionary.
      Lastly, thanks for pointing out my error. Typically I don’t feel beholden to formal writing rules in such an informal medium, but I suppose I’ll have to clean up my act.

  • That sounds like a useful program.

    I’m to the point where I’ve largely internalized the sentence-level rules (at least the ones I pay attention to), but it’s always tough to self-edit for things like pacing, character development, and the strength (interest) of the plot. That’s where a developmental editor can help, but unfortunately the cost of that makes it prohibitive for a lot of us indie authors. Shoot, it costs me over a thousand dollars just for a copy editor (admittedly, my novels are on the long side at 100K+ words).

    Most of us just have to do the best we can with that stuff, but good beta readers can be a big help. And I’m glad for the years I spent in an online workshop, critiquing a lot of *other* people’s work too. I think that helps us develop the developmental editors within ourselves. (Even so, it’s always tough to look critically at your own work!)

    As for this, “What do you do to purge your prose?” I try to cut scenes that aren’t moving the plot forward in a significant way. Also, it helps if there’s conflict, even if it’s only interpersonal stuff, in each scene. If that stuff is missing, a scene can be a snooze for a reader. To many snooze scenes, and you’ll lose ’em altogether!

    • Hi there Lindsay. Thanks for stopping by. Your system of editing obviously works as, in my opinion, your’s books are among the best edited of the indie works I’ve read. I do want to chime in on something you said though, about the rules you choose to follow… Well, isn’t that one of the great things about creative writing? There are some elements we can opt to creatively ignore.