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.