Writing and Editing, 1

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” ~ Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale has been distinguished with a *Newbery Honor for her third novel, Princess Academy. The author’s work holds a “Bestseller” status with New York Times, Book Sense, and Publishers Weekly.

[*John Newbery Medal and Honor Books 1922 – Present]

A Checklist for Self-Editing

I have given self-editing tips to myself as well as to family, friends and clients. We tend to pass through our days in a haste. Wordiness then becomes obsolete. In many instances, that is. So, here is a checklist for our own writings. A source which spoke to me as far as common sense. Hence, the reason behind my sharing it with you. I hope you will enjoy and apply the tips toward your next writing. The one at hand will do also.



Stuffy or Simple?

At times, we fall into the trap of using words that are far from being to the point. As readers, though, we want to understand the message fast. We must keep in mind that good writing must aim at clarity, coherence and cohesiveness – assuming our knowledge of grammar and its correct application are intact. Then comes brevity as an objective. Using familiar words in brief sentences will help us meet our readers’ interest in and desire for simplicity.

With this thought in mind, I would like to invite you to share your suggestions here as to how my own sentences may be improved. Are they stuffy or simple?

The Passive Voice: A Taboo?

How many times have we been forewarned against the use of the passive voice in our writings? (You notice, of course, that I am violating that same taboo with my initial text alone.) As a professor of German for over four decades, however, I consider my stance to be justified as far as such a violation. Why? Unlike the users of English, German speakers and writers are encouraged to incorporate the passive voice into their means of communication. In fact, any user of the German language will enjoy an enthusiastic applause, were s/he to formulate sentences in this voice. The key, as to be expected, is in the mastery of this construction. A flawless delivery is, in sum, a must.

My exhaustive familiarity with and prolonged professional communication through German has, as you can imagine, influenced my view on the two different schools of thoughts on this matter: I do not deny the passive voice its place in the English language either. As long as the outcome is a context-appropriate, coherent, cohesive and grammatically correct construction, I welcome its use in English as well.

Stressing the Positive

Let us imagine a short narrative:

A close friend and I met at our favorite café last week. We didn’t have our usual orders. Instead, we tried everything new on the menu. Later on, we realized we shouldn’t have taken the unknown road . . .

My friend  was wearing a beautiful dress. It wasn’t purple – the color in which I have seen her most of the time. I assumed she wanted to try something different. Just like her choice of her travel destination this year. In utter excitement, she told me what she planned to do once in Europe: “I am not flying to Italy. That isn’t the way I want to experience my stops.
[. . .]”

Now, imagine the following negative sentences under a positive light – by rewriting them without a negation:

We didn’t have our usual orders.
[. . .] we shouldn’t have taken the wild road.
It wasn’t purple.
I am not flying to Italy.
That isn’t the way I want to experience my stops.

Enjoy the practice!


A Pet Peeve . . .

“Who” Versus “That”

It seems to have become acceptable to use “that” for people instead of “who” in conversational language. There are also writings of various genres where these two sentence elements are being used interchangeably. The distinction between the two is simple, as we all know it: “who” for people and “that” for animals, groups, or things.  By honoring the cognitive purpose of each of these words, we can help our writing to become clear and precise.

Thank you for listening to a pet peeve of mine . . .


Prepositions (e.g. for, to, with, of, in, etc.) help us lengthen our sentences. One thing is for certain: They need help themselves, for they are not meant to stand alone. This fact translates into lengthy sentence constructions, an aspect in our writing that we want to eliminate – within reasonable limits, of course. By making sure to decrease the number of prepositions and the words that tag along with them, we can compact our sentences to a significant degree. We must keep in mind that one word can replace an entire prepositional phrase. How can we achieve such an outcome? By resorting to the possessive. A preposition-rich example: The teaching style of the new instructor soon became a hit among the seniors of our school. The same sample sentence, after the replacement of the prepositions by possessives: The new instructor’s teaching style soon became a hit among our school’s seniors.

With or Without an Adverb?

I was one of those individuals who would adamantly protest against the call to “lose” adverbs in any given English sentence. For in my poetry, I bend what I consider to be the rigid language rules to leave room for creativity. Besides, “poetic license” is a right too precious to abandon . . . Even as a novice writer of prose however, I had for long accepted the fact that adverbs, AKA the “-ly”-words, add only weakness to our (written or spoken) expression. They become excessive due to their lack of descriptiveness. We have an example right here in my text: “[. . .] who would adamantly protest [. . .]”. Now that you know what to improve upon, please go ahead and replace the notorious “-ly”-word with an alternative. There are a few options to lend the infected (!) sentence succinctness. Bear in mind: The key is to provide it with a descriptive. Or better yet, to replace the existing verb + adverb team with its more persuasive counterpart(s).


Throughout our early schooling, we hear how poor of an impression “run-on” sentences make on behalf of our composition homework. This “warning” does not stop after our school years are long over. My focus here is not those red flag-language aspects, however. Long sentences need to be tenderized as well. Even those where the structure is grammatically sound. After all, a sentence must contain an idea. When we resort to long sentences, several ideas may end up finding a comfortable home in them. A red flag! Our readers will unavoidably lose focus. So, let us make an effort to provide them with a breather. Let us also consider eliminating comma-rich sentences while we are in the midst of some spring-cleaning. Gifting each sentence with an idea of its own could and would help the process.