I leave these comments in nearly every manuscript I edit

Each of the writers I’ve worked with have approached their books in their own way; no two writers sound the same. And I try to edit manuscripts in such a way that the author’s unique voice continues to shine through. Yet, I find myself making a few of the same comments in most manuscripts. See if these sound familiar to you!

Replace “it” or “this” with the noun that word actually refers to.

By far the most frequent note I make in every book: “What does ‘it’ or ‘this’ refer to in this sentence?”

Most often, these queries come when “it” or “this” falls at the very beginning of a sentence or paragraph:

This matters because… (what matters, exactly?)

Even if you think that the previous sentence or paragraph make the answer obvious, be precise and specific.

The way we talk about writing matters because…

Cut out “there is…”

In nearly every sentence which begins “there is/there are,” those words can be deleted, and another verb adjusted, to make a far more exciting and active sentence. For example:

There are books like James and the Giant Peach that will always remind me of my childhood.

could be made more active by adjusting to:

Books like James and the Giant Peach will always remind me of my childhood.

Cut out “the truth is…”

Take any sentence beginning with the phrase “The truth is” or “The thing is” or “The reality is” and just cut out those words. Begin the sentence with the word that comes next and your point will come across more confidently.

Cut out “I believe.”

Similarly, in most sentences that begin “I believe” or “I think”, you can and should just begin the sentence with the next word. Anyone buying your book is buying it precisely because they want to know what you believe and think. In fact, they expect that every sentence of the book will be something you believe. Couching a sentence with “I think” makes your writing sound less confident.

Stop using the phrase “it’s interesting.”

You don’t have to tell me that something is interesting, just tell me something interesting!

Either swap in another word in place of “interesting” (thought-provoking, striking, unique, surprising), or just skip the phrase all together.

Cut the preamble.

Many writers, especially those who have written for an academic audience in the past, have a habit of beginning chapters or sections of their book with a short summary of what’s to come. These preambles usually aren’t as artless as the cliché (now meme!) “in this essay I will…” but they still lend a certain stodginess to a manuscript that I’d like to avoid.

Similar to “It’s interesting” above, you don’t have to tell me what you’re going to say, just say it!

And, last but absolutely not least, to properly format an em dash, you can:

Type: — followed by a space and let Word do the work for you, or
Type: Ctrl+Alt+Minus (on the numeric keypad), or
Click: Insert > Symbol > Special Characters > Em Dash (in Word)

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