Guest Post: Notes from an Editor

Want to become a better writer? Ever wonder what editors look for? Want to know how to proofread your own work? Here are some items to check before you send it to your editor:

anonymous female using laptop and taking notes on street
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5 Things I LOVE to See in Writing

  1. Story Flow. Keep it going! This may sound simple, but sometimes you can be writing and not realize that you’ve gotten sidetracked. When you read through your finished product, make sure everything flows smoothly and is connected to the plot. If something causes your mind to wander from the story line, change it or take it out. If your story wanders, so will the minds of your readers. Keep it tight.
  2. Varied Sentence Length. You’re a writer! Make use of that. Variety adds interest. If you have too many short sentences strung together, your story will seem choppy. Or, if you have too many long sentences, it can seem long-winded. Be kind to your reader and vary the length to keep them engaged.
  3. Imagery. Similes and metaphors are powerful tools that can add depth and complexity to you work. But there are a few cautions: they shouldn’t be overused, they need make to make sense, and they can’t derail the story.
  4. Commas, Commas, Commas! I think these are the forgotten piece of grammar. Independent clauses need commas, but dependent clauses DO NOT.

    The easiest way to decide if you need a comma after your “and” is to ask yourself, “Can this phrase before the ‘and’ be a sentence all by itself (independent clause)?” If the answer is “yes,” give it a comma.

    Also, when reading your writing out loud and there is a pause needed, put a comma.
  5. Active Voice. Your story is much more alive and flows when written in the active voice. It makes your writing stronger, more direct, and more interesting to readers.
black and red typewriter
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5 Things I HATE to See in Writing

  1. Repetition. Synonyms and the thesaurus are your friend. Use them! For example, if a character lurched to a stop, lurched out of bed, lurched around the corner, and lurched at the annoying barista. You will want to change it up a little. Pick two and change the rest.
  2. Ellipses. These are much too overused. A few here and there are okay, but every other paragraph is way too much. Commas work just as well. (See my comment on commas above.)
  3. Em Dashes. These are misused and also overused. They are actually supposed to replace parenthesis at the end of a sentence or colons to create more emphasis. But there are alternate ways you can write to create that emphasis with your words rather than with an em dash. Use sparingly, please.
  4. Common Spelling Errors. Even though we all have Spellcheck, it will not catch all the errors, so please be aware of the difference between to, too, and two; their, there, and they’re; your and you’re; and its and it’s. I think the most common seen in writing are to and too, your and you’re, and its and it’s.
  5. Inconsistencies. Keep things consistent for your whole novel. For example, if you decide to indent your character’s text messages, make sure you do that all throughout the book. Do not switch things up halfway through and start putting them in quotation marks. Other examples: time formats (PM vs p.m.), verb tenses (Is your story in present tense or past tense? Are your thoughts in present tense or past tense?)

Fabulous FREE Writing Resources

I have the app for Dictionary.com as my thesaurus. It’s simple and easy to use.

Our host, Robin, has created multiple lists that I love and regularly use. I encourage the authors I edit for to use them as well. These are my favorite ones: Other words for SAID, Other words for ASKED, and Other words for WENT


Beth Braithwaite has been a professional content editor since her first job, where she began editing at a technical recruiting firm. She has experience editing technical writing, financial documents, non-fiction, novels, and copy. When she isn’t editing, you can find her under a pile of books or playing video games with her two teenagers.

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