This is a guest post from Don McNair, an editor and the author of Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Publishers and Agents Crave.
You can read my review of his book on my April 11 post about his book.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Don will be awarding a commenter a copy of any book from his backlist.
The Airplane Ride That Changed Everything
Or: A new way to self-edit
My writing life—and that of many others—changed the day I flew from Chicago to Atlanta to interview someone for a client’s story.
I’d been a writer and editor all my life; eleven years a magazine editor, six a PR feature writer and editor, and for several years head of my own firm, McNair Marketing Communications. I’d edited many other writers’ work—even that of professional writers—and often wished that somehow they could learn to edit themselves. That appeared impossible, of course.
But I was wrong!
What I learned on that airplane opened my eyes to that, and led to my writing “Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Publishers and Agents Crave.”
Out of boredom on that flight, I was editing a fog-filled paperback. I soon realized the same mistakes appeared over and over, and was intrigued. I bought another paperback at the Atlanta airport and edited it on the way home. A pattern emerged, and I became excited. Had I discovered the writer’s Rosetta stone?
Over the next several months I edited many other paperback novels. I joined critique groups and judged writing contests, and aggressively edited other writers’ fiction. I eventually plowed through all those manuscripts from pre-published authors and the marked-up paperback books, and painstakingly sorted thousands of offending sentences and other problems by type. I eventually identified twenty-one distinct problems. Today I call their solutions, appropriately enough, the “Twenty-One Steps to Fog-Free Writing.”
The inference staggered me. Just as there’s a specific number of elements in chemistry’s Periodic Table and letters in the alphabet, there’s also a specific number of fog problems in writing. I realized many unnecessary words are actually tips of bad-writing icebergs, and that eliminating those words resolves otherwise complicated editing problems. In fact, almost half the Steps actually strengthen action while shortening sentences. You can see it happen right before your eyes.
So, here’s the good news. You don’t have to be an English major to achieve this writing miracle. You don’t have to diagram sentences or study verb declensions, whatever they are. You don’t have to learn complicated rules, wade through thick manuals of style, or immerse yourself in the technical mumbo-jumbo of a book on editing. Applying what you learn in “Editor-Proof Your Writing” will make you a better writer than would struggling with any of those.
Here’s why. Most editing manuals are like geography books that give great information but don’t show how to get from place to place. This book is a GPS that leads you through the writing jungle to solve your specific writing problems.
Most editing manuals are like dictionaries from which you’re asked to select words to write the Great American Novel. This book shows what specific words to use and what ones not to use.
This book is not loaded with theory. It instead presents knowledge a step at a time, and asks you apply what you learned—a step at a time—to your Work-In-Progress’s first chapter. You’ll also edit a nine-chapter melodrama along the way, and check your editing against mine. When you’ve worked through this book you’ll have an editor-proof first chapter, and will be ready to edit the rest of your book. You’ll learn how to write sparkling, clear, powerful copy that attracts readers, agents, and editors. And sales.
Does it really work?
That sounds great, but does it really work?
To find out, I taught the material in two online editing courses over the past three years. One class involved putting words into a story (Part 1 of the book), the other taking them out (Part 2). The latter presents the 21 Steps I discovered on that airplane. Part 3, titled “Sharing your words,” covers such things as working with critique partners, professional editors, publishers, and agents. It also discusses writing query letters and synopses.
At the end of each class I asked basic questions about the students’ experiences, so I could fine-tune the classes. The overwhelming majority gave rave reviews. (You can read them on my website http://DonMcNair.com .) Here’s just a sampling:
“Don, I have to take time out from editing my WIP to tell you how much I am enjoying your class. The information you give us is fabulous. I just counted the books I have purchased in the last twelve months dealing with writing. Twenty-seven! Twenty-seven books that have given me less usable information than your one class. Thank you. Thank you!” Linda Cousine
“I loved the class. For years people told me my writing wasn’t clear, yet never explained why it wasn’t. Your class explained why. I rate the class a ‘ten.’” Charlotte Summers
“Thank you so much for this class. I learned a ton that I can even use in my day job of writing marketing copy, so it was sort of a two-fer.” Linda Fletcher
“This was the most detailed, spot-on, editing advice I’ve ever gotten, bar none. The lesson format conveyed a lot of information in a simple, elegant form. And you brought my attention to errors I was still making despite having taken other classes on the subject. I had no clue how many mistakes I was making. Once I picked my jaw up off the floor, I realized what a wake-up call you’d given me.” Patricia Davis
“I LOVED this class. I wanted to let you know that this is, hands-down, the best class I’ve ever taken. It is immediately useful, and is taught logically and with enough examples that it is easy to see the problems in my own writing. Thank you so much for offering such a wonderful resource. I’m excited about looking at my WIP again! And, oh boy, can I see the difference after taking this class. Thank you!!!” Suzy Short
“I have mixed feelings about class ending tomorrow. I’ve learned so much, and I don’t want it to end! I started with a 105,600-word WIP, and have “de-fogged” it down to 100,000. If this class went on much longer I might be sitting here with a short story, instead of the next great American novel!” Capri Smith
That’s a lot of heartwarming responses from newer writers. But what do the old pros think? To find out, my publisher (Quill Driver Books) sent Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) out to several. Here’s what they said:
Don McNair’s Editor-Proof Your Writing is the perfect workshop-in-a-book for fiction writers, and a must-have for any beginner.” New York Times bestselling author Dianna Love
“McNair offers great editing tips that will be sure to strengthen your manuscript!” USA Today bestselling author Cynthia Eden
“All writers, seasoned or newbie, should read, absorb, and put to use the lessons Don McNair offers in Editor-Proof Your Writing.” New York Journal of Books
Of course, the real proof is in what the book will do for your writing. I predict you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much it will help.
Don McNair is a professional editor and the author of ten published novels and non-fiction books. His latest, “Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Publishers and Agents Crave,” can be reviewed and ordered at his website, http://DonMcNair.com.
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