I think I am fairly safe in saying there are not many of us that enjoy both writing and revision/editing. It can be a pain in the old posterior because sometimes it’s hard to distance yourself from what you’ve written enough to be objective. That’s your baby, your brain child, your holy grail, etc. There is an easy place you can start, though. Something I recently caught on to that’s a huge help in cleaning things up.
For example, Tillman sat down on the sofa beside Melinda and put his arm around her.
First, if he wasn’t lying down to start, and the rules of gravity still apply, we can be fairly certain readers know what direction Tillman sits in. Let’s get rid of the down part.
Tillman sat on the sofa beside Melinda and put his arm around her.
Great, now let me ask you a question. Does the fact that it is a sofa have any bearing on the story? Is there something special about this piece of furniture, maybe it’s magical and can cure diseases or make people fall in love? Probably not.
Tillman sat beside Melinda and put his arm around her.
Well, I’ll be darned. Look at that. The sentence is getting cleaner and tighter (woohoo). Now, thinking about cutting out more of the fat, let’s consider Tillman’s part. Does he have superhuman elastic body parts? Could he put his arms around Melinda if he weren’t beside her? Probably not, unless it’s science fiction.
Tillman sat and put his arm around Melinda.
Great! Now, take a good look. Are there any other unnecessary words? How can we say what we want to say in the tightest, cleanest sentence possible?
Let’s kick and to the curb and rearrange the words. The conjugation of the verb put will also need to change here, from put to putting:
Tillman sat, putting his arm around Melinda
Tillman sat, putting his arm around Melinda vs. Tillman sat down on the sofa beside Melinda and put his arm around her.
Much less awkward/clunky than the original sentence, right?
The same rule of simplicity applies to adverbs and adjectives in a sentence as well:
The cute little puppy crept slowly and quietly through the overgrown pasture.
Puppies are pretty much cute, let’s admit it and get rid of that one.
The little puppy crept slowly and quietly through the overgrown pasture.
Puppies usually are little in comparison to adult canines, right? Is this one particularly small? Is it the runt of the litter and is that important to your story? Let’s say no.
The puppy crept slowly and quietly through the overgrown pasture.
Creeping is pretty much slow and quiet, right? When you say someone creeps, generally it drums up visions of a slow movement, and also quietness.
We can either go with one of the two adverbs or none. Is slowly or quietly important to the story? For instance, a predator is watching the weeds in the pasture for movement. The puppy goes slowly to avoid a visual disturbance. On the other hand, maybe the predator has its back turned or is blind, so noise from rustling of the weeds is a greater concern. Then we would use quietly.
The puppy crept slowly through the overgrown pasture.
The puppy crept quietly through the overgrown pasture.
If neither supports some integral part of your tale, then keep it simple:
The puppy crept through the overgrown pasture.
In summary, here are some quick, easy rules for cleaner writing/self-editing:
1.) Don’t insult your reader. There is no need to write things that are blatantly obvious.
2.) Tighten up. Can you say the same thing with fewer words?
3.) Avoid overkill. Consider your adverbs and adjectives carefully. How many you are using in one sentence. Are your sentences flowery, clunky, or chunky?
In other words, don’t tell people that they are big, dumb, stupid idiots by using flowery, wordy, excessive and elaborate phrasing in your sentences that you write.
—Also, have a great weekend.