Great Writing Isn’t Born—It’s Built Sentence by Sentence with Self-Editing

While I was self-editing my first children’s novel in 1989 (gasp, yes, I hung out with Methuselah et al.), I consulted a great little book called Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print. The wise authors, David King and Renni Browne, helped me look professional in many areas including dialogue and proportion (i.e. don’t spend a lot of space on a setting or character that isn’t germane to the plot and theme).

One chapter of the book puzzled me, however, because I didn’t recognize the differences between the “before self-editing” and “after self-editing” passages in the chapter titled “Sophistication.” That chapter was all about subordinate clauses. I didn’t understand what they wanted me to do in the practice sections. In my youthful hubris, I shrugged and put the book on the shelf, unwilling to put the work into unraveling the weaknesses of sentences that begin with present participles (-ing words) or the subordinating conjunction “as.”

Self-editing for action scenes

Fast forward to 2020, and I’m recoiling from a layoff. I begin a writing-coaching business, and my first client is so fond of the word “as” that she begins about every fourth sentence with it, sprinkling it around as you would Parmesan cheese at an Italian restaurant. (To her defense, she is crafting an adventure novel with lots of action and “as” can appear very handy in describing action that takes place simultaneously.) To explain my edits and why I was rewriting her “as” clauses, I go looking for backup and pull out my trusty copy of Self-Editing for Fictions Writers. I re-read the chapter about the use of “as,” and I feel as if I’ve discovered the Rosetta Stone of editing action. It all makes sense thirty years (and twenty-seven or so books) later!

But wait! There’s more about self-editing!

When I pulled up Self-Editing on Amazon, at the bottom of the page was a suggested book called, It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences. What writer could not LOVE that title? I was intrigued enough to check the book out of the library and find out what author June Casagrande had to say. And in fact, she had a lot to say to me, an editor of thirty years, and to beginners, like my twenty-two-year-old son who wants to be a writer.

June’s second chapter was on—guess what?—subordination and the subordinating conjunction “as.” She went far beyond a Rosetta Stone beginner’s course, translating writing advice into clear—and witty—instruction.

While I didn’t learn anything astonishing at this point in my career, her way of presenting the material was a great refresher, and she even defined things for me, putting into succinct words vague concepts that had been floating around in my editorial subconscious unmoored. Thank you, June.

Grammar and self-editing

Her grammar chapter will help with self-editing. The chapter is a scant thirty pages with a lot of leading. I used to recommend Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, but Casagrande’s chapter is shorter and easier to master. Ditto for the punctuation. I’d considered AP Stylebook’s summary the best, but this little gem of a chapter is a “must read” for anyone who thinks they can’t understand a semicolon; you can with this book.

The best thing is her tone and her June-ness. Ms. Casagrande is also a stand-up comedian, and her wit saturates every sentence. So instead of watching a sitcom tonight, I beg you to borrow or buy a copy and laugh your way into a Pulitzer. That might be an over-promise, but you’ve got to start somewhere. (You can read the first chapter of it for FREE at GoodReads, just click on the button that says Preview on the right-hand side of the page.)

Need help with self-editing?

Want to chat with me for 30 minutes to discuss your project for free? (Or we can talk about dogs. Dogs are my second passion.) Email me at HeLovesMeBooks@gmail.com to set up a time. You can also sign up for my quarterly newsletter at MarianneHering.com. (My latest book has a lot of dogs in it.)


7 thoughts on “Great Writing Isn’t Born—It’s Built Sentence by Sentence with Self-Editing

  1. Sounds like such a helpful book, and the humor makes it sound like fun! I also love dogs! A corgi hangs out with me when I write!

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