Self-Editing: The Cringe Test

My writing group met recently for our monthly critiquing love- and slugfest. We know each other well enough to be pretty brutal and frank, and mostly that’s good, because it means that if everyone agrees that something’s finished, you can be sure we aren’t just being polite. 

This month it happens that we’re all revising manuscripts, and we’re all weighing the pressure to be done with it against the wish for it to be perfect. And we discovered that we’ve all had the same experience at some point, of trying to ignore a subpar passage that we hoped would escape our editor’s/agent’s/reader’s notice. 

When you aren’t certain, how do you decide whether a particular chunk is good enough? Some possible cringe tests: 

—Imagine you’re interviewed on Fresh Air and Terry Gross chooses that passage to read out loud.

—Pretend it’s the only passage an old lover will read when he or she happens across it.

—Picture it printed in your obituary. 

You get the idea—and I’ll bet you have some doozies. The point is, although not every passage will turn out to be quote-worthy, none of them should make you cringe.

Original Story :



8 Microsoft Shortcuts That You Need Right Now

Shortcuts in editing may be frowned upon, but when it comes to word processing, editing shortcuts are not only allowed, they’re essential. If you’re still fumbling around in the pull-down menus, fighting with features that won’t leave you alone, and wasting time on tasks that could be done with lightning speed, stop it right now!

Here are just a few shortcuts you can try:

  1. Toggle tracking on and off: Ctrl+Shift+E.

  2. Upper- or lowercase selected words: Shift+F3. Do it again. And again.

  3. Show/hide hard returns and space marks: Ctrl+Shift+8.

  4. Single-space the paragraph your cursor is in: Ctrl+1 (then, just for fun, Ctrl+A, then F4). Note: Ctrl+2 for double-spacing.

  5. Jump to your previous editing location: Alt+Ctrl+Z.

  6. Cursor by a paragraph or a word at a time: Ctrl + Arrow keys.

  7. Remove all hyperlinks in a document: Ctrl+A, then Ctrl+Shift+F9.

  8. Split/unsplit your screen: Alt+Ctrl+S.


Subversive Copy Editor: Random Advice for Copyeditor Newbies

If you’re new to copyediting, consider these snippets of advice. (Be sure to check with your supervisor if any of them contradict your usual instructions.)

  • Don’t query a word or spelling or locution without looking it up. If a writer uses an unfamiliar word or spelling more than once, it’s very possibly intended. It’s easy to paste “eat one’s cake and have it, too” into a search engine and learn that the writer doesn’t have it backward.

  • Don’t waste a writer’s time by continually asking for approval. (“Okay? If you don’t like this, I can put it back.”) Rather, indicate your flexibility in the cover letter. On the manuscript, use queries for giving or asking for information.

  • Save grief later by e-mailing the author before you make editing decisions that are hard to undo. (“Re romantic/Romantic: do you have a system for capping? Should I meddle?”)

  • Don’t track changes that will be invisible or confusing on a black-and-white printout, such as deletions of hyphens.* If the editing is difficult to read, the writer won’t easily see that the results read well.

  • Be conservative in editing until you have more experience. You should be ready to explain every mark you put on the page.

  • Remember the copyeditor’s creed: First, do no harm.


Help! The Words Don't Make Sense

Writing is a lost art, and many professionals don’t realize how essential a job skill it is. Even if you’re not a writer by trade, every time you click “Publish” on a blog, “Post” on a LinkedIn update, or “Send” on an email, you are putting your writing out into the world.
Your writing is a reflection of your thinking. If you want to be thought of as a smart thinker, you must become a better writer. If you want to be taken seriously by your manager, colleagues, potential employers, clients and prospects, you must become a better writer.
It’s not just you who must become a better writer- it’s all of us. I’ll be the first to admit, I too have had to learn to become a better writer. So here are five ways that I’ve become a better writer over the last several years:

1) Practice, practice, practice. The old joke comes to mind: A tourist in New York asked a woman on the street, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” and she replied, “Practice, practice, practice.” The truth is, the best way to get better at anything is to do it repeatedly. Write a personal blog or begin that novel you’ve always wanted to write. Offer to write some content for your company’s marketing team. Write a short, interesting LinkedIn update each day. The more you write, the better you’ll become at writing. That’s why I write here on LinkedIn every Monday and Thursday, no matter what.

2) Say it out loud. I read all of my articles and books out loud before I publish them, and many of my emails out loud as well. It’s great to hear my writing the way others will “hear” it as they read. Especially since tone in emails is difficult to convey, it’s valuable to say what you’re writing aloud, and then consider a quick edit, before you put it out there.

3) Make it more concise. Less is often more, so during my editing process, I’ll often ask, “How can I say the same thing in fewer words?” People don’t have time to read a long email, or memo, or article, so out of respect for your intended audience, practice making your writing short and sweet. I’d even argue that tweeting has helped me a lot with this, as it obviously limits you to 140 characters. If you’re not on Twitter yet, this is another reason to get tweeting.

4) Work on your headlines. A mentor once told me that 50% of your writing is the headline. So, spend equal time and energy working on your headline as you do the piece itself. Whether it’s the headline of a blog post or an inter-office memo, or a subject line for an email to a sales prospect, your headlines will either grab your reader’s attention, and get them interested in what you have to say, or not. Lists and questions work very well as headlines and subject lines. Practice them.

5) Read. Besides practicing writing, the number one way to improve your writing skills is to read great work. I read at least one book per month, at least 20 articles per week, and countless tweets, Facebook posts and emails per day. I know we all have limited time, but truly the best way to become a better writer is to become a better reader.
These are my methods for becoming a better writer. Do you agree or disagree with me that all business professionals can work to become better writers? How important is good writing to you? And how have you become a better writer over your career? Let me know in the comments below!

How to Become a Better Writer

Everyone wants to communicate effectively, so here are some helpful tips to take your writing to the next level. You will need reading material, a pen or pencil, a notebook, a dictionary and the ability to handle constructive criticism.

Step 1. Read as often as you can. Reading other people's work is one of the best ways to learn more about writing. And it can inspire you, too. Read books you like as well as books that are recommended to you. Venture into other styles and genres.

Step 2. Research before you write. Develop a broad knowledge of your subject to bring out the best in your writing.

Step 3. Find ways to build your vocabulary. Sign up for word of the day e-mails or crossword puzzles. If you run across a word you don't know, look it up in a dictionary.

Step 4. Simplify your writing. Learn to cut out extra words and sentences that don't add anything.

Step 5. Always have a notebook handy to write down ideas. Take time away from the computer to write in your notebook, which may free up your writing.

Step 6. Get your work critiqued by giving it to trusted friends, mentors, and teachers to read. Pick people who you know will be honest with you. Once you find someone who gives good notes, develop a relationship with them. Here's a little known fact: Emily Dickinson only published seven of her 1,700 poems during her lifetime.