Really Good Writing Requires Really Good Editing!

Posted at 17:52pm on 3rd April 2009

Anyone, it has been said, can write. But as any published author knows only too well, the secret of writing well is in the rewriting.


I was very fortunate in that my first book was commissioned. Actually, what happened was that what had been one book became two. It had taken me many years to write it – plus many rewrites. And even when it was accepted by a publisher, I was still expected to undertake a great deal of editing before a final draft was deemed ready to go to the printers.

The ability to produce a good piece of writing over and over again does not come easily. There are gurus galore, plus a proliferation of products, which tell you that you can produce a book in less time than it takes to get a decree nisi. But what they don’t tell you is that this first draft is just the bare bones. When you think about it, it is an insult to any professional writer to suggest otherwise.

The Barbara Cartlands of this world are few and far between. Whilst she is purported to have written a historical romance every fortnight, what we’re not told is that she undoubtedly had a small army of secretaries and editors on hand to knock her prose into shape.


I’m in the middle of a mini-series, inspired by an e-mail I received from a lady in Greece who asked what the difference is between a good story and a good piece of writing. Links for these posts are shown at the end of this one.

Revision and editing are crucial to success in publishing, and although I do a considerable amount of both on my computer, there’s something about the human brain that seems to be hard-wired to reading hard-copy.

Consequently, I would urge you to print successive drafts of your work and to edit in long-hand. This is the purpose of the wide margins and double spacing format. I tend to do mine as I go along, chapter by chapter. You’ll find that spelling errors and grammatical mistakes which you’ve missed on your monitor, become glaringly obvious when on paper.

So what should you be looking for? I’m no expert when it comes to grammar, so below is only a simplified list. I would urge you to surround yourself with a collection of books to help you perfect your art.


While spell-checks are admirable, they don’t always behave well. Words like they’re and their, bow and bough, here and hear, oral and aural would not, necessarily, be picked up as wrong in your narrative. Be scrupulous.


Well – where do I begin? I can’t recommend Lynn Truss’s book Eats Shoots and Leaves highly enough. As the title suggests, punctuation is key. Are we talking here about a Panda who eats shoots and leaves from bamboo? Or a gangster who eats a meal, shoots the bartender (without paying?) and leaves town?

  • Exclamation marks! Don’t use too many exclamations marks. They should be used in speech only to indicate annoyance or surprise or to make a point i.e. when a character is exclaiming!
  • Apostrophes: Make sure apostrophes are used correctly: to indicate a missing letter i.e. he’s = he is; they’ll = they will; I’ve = I have.
  • To indicate possession i.e. (borrowing a line from the lyrics of The King of Catactacus) Now the boys who put the powder on the noses on the faces of the ladies of the harem of the court of King Catactacus, were just passing by would read: The boys who put the powder on King Catactacus’ court’s harem’s ladies’ noses were just passing by.
    The rule here is that when a name ends with an ‘s’ the apostrophe denoting ownership usually stands alone (no further ‘s’ is added); the court and the harem are singular, so an apostrophe + s are added; the ladies are plural so an apostrophe follows the noun with no further ‘s’ added.
  • Commas: Commas are used to separate adjectives i.e. a lovely, big, juicy, red lollipop. However, this is not always the case i.e. when one of the list is more prominent than the others.
    They are also used like brackets (parenthesis) around clauses i.e. The car, which had not passed its MOT, broke down on the roundabout. More about clauses next time. Commas, however, should always be used to separate words like: however, therefore, nevertheless, from the main sentence.


Adjectives qualify nouns and Adverbs verbs. Try not to use too many in your narrative. Choosing the right word makes for a stronger sentence.
Hence: The sulky little (Adj.) girl (noun) walked (verb) slowly (Adv.) up the stairs. That sentence would better read: Mutinous, the child came up stairs, dragging her feet.


Many new writers begin sentences with ‘ing’ verbs. There is a place for this: Having read the book, Susie was able to make a valid contribution to the discussion. (Incidentally, I’ve seen – and may well have been guilty of, myself – the insertion of ‘previously’ between ‘having’ and ‘read’. This is tautology – see below – as the tense implies an action already executed).
However, be sure that you mean what you’re saying: ‘ing’ at the end of a verb makes it a continuous action. Therefore, Ringing the bell, she walked through the front door is wrong. She cannot be continuing to ring the bell once she’s over the threshold. (Actually, she can’t walk through the front door either!)


Never use a big word when a small one will do is a mantra quoted by many writers. This is not, however, an invitation to be lazy. The English language has an unsurpassed richness of vocabulary. Nuances of difference mean that there is almost always at least one word which uniquely describes what you, the writer, are trying to convey. A Thesaurus is, thus, an essential part of a writer’s equipment.


Tautology is the use of two words in juxtaposition to one another, both meaning the same thing. This is a bugbear of mine and one which is increasingly evoked as more and more TV and radio presenters seem to be afflicted by it. Reverting back is a favourite! Reverting means going back. Just like reversing back. And proceeding forwards.

Related posts:

What is a good story and what a good piece of writing?

To be a good story teller you need to understand what makes a good piece of writing

NEXT TIME: We’ll continue to look at ways of revising, refining and editing your work: Writing in Style Requires Rewriting & Revision

Your Comments:

8th April 2009
at 5:14am

Editing is not too familiar for me, but you're right,
it's important in expressing ideas correctly.

By the way, long time no visit here Mel. And your words are
still so 'colorful', as always.

Anyway, if you visit my blog, you might notice that I don't
write about self development anymore. After a while, it got too
absurd and abstract for me. Now I share simple tips or light
articles about blogging - blogger - blogspot.

8th April 2009
at 6:05pm

Hi Isaac, haven't seen you on Twitter lately, either. Thanks
for dropping by. I'll certainly be interested to take a look at
your newly focussed blog. Maybe I can learn a thing or two. (And
check on whether you're taking your editing seriously) :-D Take

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