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Writing and Publishing

Search and Replace Trite Phrases in Your Writing

Avoid using “it was,” “that was,” and “this was”—among other things

I hired a developmental editor to give me big-picture feedback on my novel. Though her comments overall encouraged me, I have several things to work on and fix.

One was that I used the innocuous phrase “it was” too often. How often? It popped up 126 times, which was an average of once for every 365 words. Interestingly I discovered I used it in spurts, with the phrase being absent in some chapters and plentiful in others.

As I set about to fix the problem, I realized I could simply replace “it was” with “that was” or “this was,” but doing so solved one problem by creating another. I would need to find and replace those phrases, too. While “that was” occurred only twenty-one times, “this was” showed up fifty-six times, for a total of 203 instances for all three.

  • The ideal correction involved replacing these trite phrases with a more powerful verb.
  • If that solution alluded me, a secondary option was replacing “it,” “that,” or this” with the noun they referenced or a suitable alternative.
  • A few times I couldn’t find replacement wording that would convey the same meaning without ballooning the sentence in size or structure, so I left it as is.
  • Last was dialogue. I reasoned I could often retain these phrases in speech because that’s how people usually talk. Even so, I did clean up some of the conversations in my story, too.

While I could have slavishly reworked every occurrence of these offending phrases, I felt inclined to leave some in to maintain the flow or clarity of the story.

In the end I left “it was” in twelve times; “that was,” three times; and “this was,” four times. This reduced my total number of offenses from 203 down to only nineteen, a 94 percent reduction.

Now my next task is to develop a habit were I don’t use “it was,” “that was,” or “this was” in the first place. While I long ago put my writing on a “low-that” diet, I suspect this new skill will take a bit longer to develop.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Is Your First Draft Too Long or Too Short?

Some authors write too much and need to delete; others don’t write enough and must add

Do you write long or short? Some writers produce long first drafts and then shorten them—sometimes a great deal—as they edit. Others write shorter first drafts and then add to them—sometimes a lot—as they work on revisions. Which camp are you in?

Write Long; Edit Later

Some writers produce long first drafts. Then they remove the parts that don’t fit or edit it down to hit a target word count. I suspect discovery writers (those who “discover” what comes next as they write) or those who write fast tend to fit in this category.

I try not to do this. It pains me whenever I need to cut something from my work. If you do cut a section, a chapter, a scene, or a character, always save what you remove; it could come in handy later – especially if you need to put it back.

Writing long feels unproductive to me. Writers who do this spend more time writing their first draft and more time editing it later. That’s why I try to avoid writing long. This is why I plan before I write.

Write Short; Add Later

The opposite is writers who write a short first draft and then expand on it as they edit. They insert scenes, characters, sections, or points. Sometimes this is to round out the text. Other times it is to hit a minimum word length.

I needed to do this once. After including all the information I was provided for a ghostwriting assignment, I was 10,000 words short. I added paragraphs, lengthened sentences, and inserted words. The result was longer but I fear not much better. This arduous task drained me, as well as taking up a lot of time.

For another book, my dissertation, it seemed everything I added messed up the flow of what came next. So each thought I inserted caused me more work with the following text, requiring even more rewriting. That wasn’t fun either.

A Just Right First Draft

My goal is to write the right length in my first draft. That’s a big reason why I outline, either on the page or in my head. This saves me the pain of cutting and the agony of adding.

Usually, I come close to meeting this goal. But not in this post. I just deleted 225 words because it was running long, but I saved them to use in a future post. So it’s all good.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Editor Skills

There are three basic types of editors (and they each have various names). Each type of editor requires a different skill set.

Developmental Editor

A developmental editor, sometimes called a comprehensive editor, looks at big picture issues. For fiction this includes items such as story arc, character development, writing voice, and plot issues. Nonfiction looks at theme, organization, structure, writing consistency, and so forth.

A developmental editor must read widely and have knowledge of your genre and the publishing industry.

Copy Editor

A copy editor looks at sentence structure and the flow between sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. They will identify awkward sections and poor phrasing. They may point out character inconsistencies and possible factual errors to check.

A copy editor needs to know the genre. Having a college writing degree helps, but a more beneficial characteristic is having taught writing and graded a lot of papers or has experience in a career that requires a lot of editing.

Proofreader

A proofreader looks at the details: word usage, punctuation, and grammar. A proofreader should enjoy specificity and be able to focus. A proofreader must know and follow a style guide, such as the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS).

Some proofreaders know multiple style guides, but others specialize in using just one and therefore only take jobs that use that style guide. The key requirement is having mastered a style guide and knowing how to apply it.

No one can do all three types of editing at once—nor should they. And most editors will only ever do one type.

The ultimate qualification to become an editor is having successfully done the work. This makes it hard for people to start as an editor because few writers will hire an unproven editor.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Editing Options

Some writers say they can’t afford an editor, but I say you can’t afford to. No one can.

But if you want options, here are three ideas come to mind:

Barter

First, look for an editor who will barter. They edit, and you perform a service of equal value. It might be writing-related or it might not. But since most editors need actual money, this may be hard to pull off unless the editor is a friend or just starting out.

The Beginning Editor

Second, the next option is to seek a beginning editor who wants to edit but has no finished projects to show people. Maybe the first-time editor will edit your work for free or at a reduced rate just to have something in their portfolio. Remember, every editor must have a first project to get a second project. But the first one is hard to get. You can help them as they help you.

A University Connection

Third, contact the writing department at a nearby college. Maybe they have a promising student looking for experience.

These are all long shots, but they’re worth exploring.

The one thing you don’t want to do is find an editor who isn’t qualified, such as a person who majored in English or who likes to read. These people may make good beta readers, but don’t ask them to edit.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Grammar Checking Programs

I once signed up for a trial of grammarly.com. It’s a most impressive grammar checker.

The problem was that it was too sophisticated for me. It flagged many things to check, but I lacked the needed background to comprehend the issues. Many of their suggestions were beyond me. However, I recently took a fresh look at it, and it seems they’ve made it easier to use.

Regardless, the built-in grammar checker in Microsoft Word is a great place to start. Though this still requires the writer to decide which suggestions to accept and which ones to reject, it’s easier to manage. While this won’t catch everything, it covers the basics.

In my experience as a publication editor, most of the submissions I receive could benefit from doing this basic grammar check in Word before they submitted their work. It seems many people have turned off this option (I once did), and some don’t bother to run spell-check either. Don’t make that mistake.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.