The Unthink Editing Process

I’ve got a great writing guest post from the amazing Susan Silver about unthinking the editing process. I found this post to be extremely useful, and I hope you see the same value. Enjoy!

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writers-and-bloggers

Sometimes you have to unthink the editing process to be more productive.

As a writer I tend to be cerebral. I use big words, like to play with their meanings, and gently layer my work with intricate details. After an hour or so of a writing session, I will come up for air with over a thousand words and a smug sense of satisfaction.

Then the editor part of my brain takes over. Takes out the red pen, and marks up all my hard work. I dread these moments, but there are a few steps I take as the self editor that need to be done. I call it the unthink process.

What is unthink?

It means dialing back the bravado to match my text with my audience. Taking away all my fancy techniques until the meaning I want to convey is obvious.

Your thoughtful efforts may have produced the next Ulysses, but what does that mean to the guy who just wants to install Linux on his computer. When we edit we cannot forget the simple facts. It has to be readable.

Steps in the unthink editing process:

1. Could an eighth grader read this?

The other day I was taught the word sesquipedalian. It is a fabulous word, but I don’t think people will be familiar with the definition. Don’t obfuscate and hide behind words. Change your phrasing and make it easy for your readers to understand you.

2. Can I breathe?

True fact, the longest English sentence ever printed is 13,955 words long. Even if the grammar is perfect these sentences are difficult to get through. Our brains have to process the commas and conjunctions. Parsing out subjects and verbs; indirect and direct objects. It can be cognitively taxing. Find ways to break up the sentence into related thoughts.

3. Would my grandmother understand?

This is one of my favorite tactics for editing. I read it aloud to a friend unfamiliar with my subject. If they don’t get the gist of what I am saying then I know it is time for a rewrite.

4. Scanning for your most common grammar errors.

We all have certain weaknesses. I tend to write in the passive voice and replace words with homonyms. These two are not likely to show up on a spelling and grammar check. Keep a list of your more common errors. Scan your work looking specifically for them.

5. Strip!

No, keep your clothes on. I just mean find ways to strip your sentences of unnecessary adjectives and conjunctions. The reason for this is simple, sentences carry more impact when they are concise. Through better word choice we can say more with less words.

An Example of Unthink in a Published Novel

I think Charlaine Harris has captured unthink with her character Sookie Stackhouse. The heroine of “True Blood” is a simple girl, with a complicated life. It is hard to imagine some of the words that come out of her mouth the way she is described. The author gets away with it by using a specific device, the word a day calender.

This piece of deux ex machina has allowed Harris to have Sookie say remarkable words that seem more inline with her author/creator than the charcter. It appears once in every book, where it is used to sum up what is happening in the novel. Is this still unthink? After all, Harris is actually making her sentences more complex, not simpler.

It may seem like an anti-example, but it is not. By including these words Harris is doing step #5. Clarifying her work by using more precise words. These moments effectively showcase the strength of Sookie’s intellect.

What is your unthink editing process like? How do you find ways to clarify your words? Tell me in the comments! 

About the author: Susan Silver is celebrating her third year as a contract copywriter. She has written for several online publications on the topics of social media, marketing, and pop-culture. She delights in giving her clients more visibility online with optimized copy that engages audiences as much as it informs. Visit her website Cirque du Mot for more information about her amazing services and boundless creative energy.

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Susan, thank you so much for an amazing guest post. Come back anytime you’d like!

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21 Comments

  1. If i have a “poke” at me, then I know I can’t ignore it. For example, I wrote in a scene in the novel I’m working on now and had a little “poke” tell me “Nuh uh.” But I ignored it because I wanted that scene in there. Then I go to bed and think about the book before I go to sleep, and by time I’m asleep, or at least by time I wake up in the middle of the night or morning, I know it has to come out (or maybe there is a big change needed). Other things will come to me then too – this ain’t working, this needs expanding, etc.

    So the “poke” usually has me deleting, and I never ignore it – even if I try to at first, I should know by now that those pokes are my instincts guiding me. :-D

    • This reminds me of my favorite story from Joss Whedon. When he discovered that Amy Acker had training in ballet he wrote an episode just to show off her skill. He filmed a dance sequence but ultimately he had to cut it. Sometimes our inspirations and favorite bits have to be cut for the greater good.

  2. Those are great tips. I know there are a few spelling mistakes that I make while typing all the time and always look for those while editing.

    • I’ve gotten much better about double checking my work. I even went as far to get a grammar text book so I can routinely advance my knowledge. People have complained about my use of commas and periods before.

  3. I just started doing this in January. Before that I had to make every word perfect, which caused me not to post very often. Now that I have posted every day this year, I have relaxed my writing style and just talked about what’s going on in my life in a more raw style. I do a quick edit, but I don’t dress up the language. Great post!

    • It sounds weird, but using more common words really helps to clarify our points. When I think about some of the great speeches, I realize most used vocab that I learned in grade school. They say the sweet spot is about the eighth grade level.

    • I’m in the same boat. I would like to post more but my perfectionist tendencies take over! I want to follow your lead–relax and post more. Thanks. :)

  4. Thank you Amberr for letting me have the spotlight on your blog. I love what you do here every week. You also showcase some great writers (and now I get to say I am one of them).

    • Susan, it was such a pleasure to have you post. I hope you consider doing so again in the future. You’ve been an ideal guest poster.

  5. Thankfully, I ONLY have an 8th grade vocabulary!

    LOVE YOU, Susan! Great tips…

    • Your awesome too Bruce X 12 X infinity. Thanks for leaving a comment :)

    • You are awesome too Bruce X 12 X infinity. Thanks for leaving a comment :)

  6. Susan –
    This post was helpful to me because I need more tips for editing my posts. because I write about health topics, I try very hard to make them interesting. Maybe thinking about the topics more simply will help them be more interesting – as well as being real.

    Amberr – As always, I enjoy reading your posts. I know I am bad about commenting – which is double-bad because I am a fellow blogger. I enjoy comments on my blog and knowing if what I am writing is helping my readers. So…Amberr, I like your posts on anything having to do with writing, blogging, social media, etc. – & even the travel posts. I also love guest bloggers because I am introduced to other blogging styles and bloggers.

    Thanks Susan & Amberr –
    Monique

    • Thanks Monique. I am glad these tips were helpful. It can take some experimentation to find our writing voice. Don’t be afraid to try new things and see what feedback you receive.

    • Sweet. Thanks for the lovely comment. Let me know how the writing process goes.

  7. Aha moments reading this. Great reminders. Easy for me to get too wordy and in-depth! I am amazed at how long editing can take me. I like the simplicity of the 5 points. Thanks!

    • Laura, I am so glad you enjoyed Susan’s post. She is amazing!

  8. I usually read aloud to my hubz — lucky for me, he catches the majority of my confusing phrases or rotten wording, plus reading it aloud allows me to catch some errors myself. I still miss a ton I’m embarrassed about later, but… better written sloppy than not at all, where blogging is concerned. At least, that’s what I tell myself, haha! Thanks for the excellent tips on “unthinking”… & I agree, Sookie Stackhouse is a perfect example! LOL – maybe I’m biased though because I think her character is so much fun! :)

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AMBERR MEADOWS

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I’m an Atlanta, Georgia Social Media Manager, blogger, writer, and brand ambassador with a passion for travel, photography, social media, blogging, creativity, and great books. I'm a thinker, dreamer, lover, and compassionate soul. Expect a heavy dose of humor lightly sprinkled with sarcasm. Welcome!

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