One of the most developmental writing experiences I’ve had was the copy editing of my book. I sent off the manuscript I had slaved over for months and back it came covered in tracked changes. They made me think deeply about how I write, revealing all the flaws and indulgences.
Emma Tuck, who copied edited it, did an amazing job. The majority of her edits were either deleting whole sections of paragraphs, or adding notes saying ‘this needs to be clearer’. These usually caused me to delete whole sections myself. The majority of the writing process was cutting things.
I’m finishing writing a report for Nesta at the moment and going through the same process. Everything is better when it is cut. If you can cut it down and it retains the meaning then it is sharper. If it loses the meaning it wasn’t sharp enough anyway. It needs to go or to be re written.
Writing clear and bold sentences is so important. Through the copy editing process I found that I have a huge tendency to write really over long sentences, explaining the nuances of my point and thinking that makes it clearer and more detailed when actually it makes it harder to follow and obscures the true meaning of what I am trying to get across.
[Yes, that was an example ;)]
Going through a copy editing process has made me stop and think. With every sentence I now try to go for brevity and clarity. I mercilessly cut.
As with most things these days, there’s an app for that. Hemingway is designed for you to drop your text into and edit. It highlights long sentences, over-use of adverbs, and passive voice. It’s hugely useful for achieving clear writing.
Here’s the challenge; I dare you to write in it. It’s quite something to see your writing highlighted for such things as you compose it. I learnt a lot through copy editing, but I’ve not found anything quite so affecting as writing directly in Hemingway. That immediate feedback changes how you compose.
Perhaps with enough use I will ingrain the methods for achieving clarity it teaches and not need an edit. For now, it’s cut, cut, cut.
Photo: CC BY Dave Crosby