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Where I live, the snow has disappeared and the crocuses are blooming. The arrival of spring is a time of rebirth, renewed energy, and spirit.

Who or what inspires me to write? The answer is varied and unlimited. Personalities, places and things. Animal, vegetable and mineral. News articles, current events and opinions. My own personal life experience. My imagination. A single word or image can spur a poem, mood, or story. Connotations arise. Juices flow. Do I have a muse? If intuition and the subconscious qualify, yes I do.

For some, the act of writing inspires not the other way around. In the writing process, ideas flood to the surface. Ideas buzz around our heads like bees. Our senses tingle as we search for and express our ideas. However, writing sparked by a fleeting dream, mental image or thought may not be perfect in the first draft. That’s why editing is so important.

For novices, you may find the following editing tips useful. For you pros out there, you may find some interesting tidbits.

I make hundreds of conscious decisions and choices when I write. Every word or phrase is considered several times. I attempt to choose the right words. Active verbs are preferable over passive verbs.

I search out redundancy. I replace repeated words with synonyms using a thesaurus. To say things in an original way is desirable.

If the dialogue shows an emotion, I don’t need a descriptive adverb. Here’s an example. “I hate you!” she said angrily. In this case, the adverb is unnecessary.

Sentence structure with variety can be more interesting. Fragmented sentences or one-word sentences may be effective. However, run-on sentences or dangling modifiers are not.

Each sentence may have a subject and predicate or not. One follows the other or vice versa. Each paragraph has a beginning, middle and end. Each passage needs transitions and a sequence that are logical but not necessarily chronological. The overall storyline must begin and end with a punch. I want to catch the reader’s interest and keep it.

Rules around punctuation can be tricky. I edit to eliminate comma splices and use punctuation to make the meaning clear. In short sentences, it’s acceptable to remove some of the punctuation for readability. Dialogue has specific rules around punctuation. Style manuals for general writing may be useful to you.

Microsoft Word and other computer programs may identify many errors but not all. Common spelling or grammar errors that word processing programs don’t always pick up are:

[i]they’re, their, there
your, you’re
its, it’s
lose, loose
who, whom
who’s, whose[/i]

Watch for wordiness. Sometimes I eliminate words like that or really or phrases like in order to or in other words.

When one edits, it’s wise to take breaks to stretch. One can come back to it with fresh eyes.

Reading one’s poetry or prose aloud may aid one’s writing. Reading poetry aloud makes one conscious of meter, rhyme, and rhythm. Prose read aloud can aid one in finding grammatical errors or awkward sentences. Also listen closely to the flow of dialogue. Does it sound natural or too formal? Is the pause in the right place? Developing an ear doesn’t only apply to music. Using one’s senses to fine-tune one’s writing is an excellent tool.

I have a friend who drops words when writing. She was told, “It’s because you think faster than you write.”

I have another good friend who helped edit my submissions for a writing contest in the newspaper. Each week, contestants had three days to write a chapter, in 2,000 words or less, based on the previous week’s winning entry. The subject was a crime story where body parts kept turning up. It was a great learning experience to write to a deadline, fit in an original twist but still keep continuity. Also, each chapter needed a strong finish while remaining open-ended enough to keep readers coming back.

She was a writer and had worked in Emergency Services as a 911 Dispatch and Call taker based at the police department. I learned something about crime story writing, the manner in which clues are pieced together and elements of suspense and surprise. She used objectivity and her expertise to show me what worked and what didn’t. Her advice was invaluable and improved my writing a great deal.

Line edits where each sentence is considered carefully can take some time and effort, but for me it was very beneficial. New writers can learn from seasoned writers.

I encourage you as members to respond to some of the writing you read on our website with an editorial eye in your comments. Constructive criticism around editing was a helpful tool that improved my writing. Any writing submission should be as free of errors as possible. Quality and precision makes your work more professional, and more attractive to readers and publishers. There are professional editing services available at a cost, but I believe learning to edit your own work is an essential tool.

To close, my idiom of the month is when you are inspired “run with it” in your writing. Take that energy and put it to good use. Go as far as you can to make it work as a polished piece. Then ask someone, preferably a fellow writer whose judgment you trust, to read it. Listen to what others have to say, but also be true to yourself and use only the comments that are helpful. There are many ways to say something. Your writer’s voice is unique as your person.

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The following comments are for "Musings: by Sandra Yuen MacKay"
by sandra

@Clever Musing
Some very sage advise Sandra. I would like to add if I may. An essential classic reference book in the library of any writer useful for grammar, composition and so much more is, 'The Elements of Style' by William Strunk, Jr. Although many of us value our computer grammar checkers these days Mr. Strunks book is truly a bible of reference material. I too am a fanatic about keeping a thesaurus at hand, but even more so my real bible is an encyclopedia. These two books are at my side any time I write to ensure I've used words in the correct context, and as you say for the polished affect one can not be dependent on the computer spell checkers. Thank you Sandra for another great column that is always filled with inspirational ideas. Sincerely, Gale.

( Posted by: Gale [Member] On: February 26, 2009 )

thanks Gale!
'The Elements of Style' and encyclopedias I agree are great resources. Not everything on the internet is factually correct, so sometimes it's good to cross check information too.

Thank you for your comments, Gale! You are 'resourceful' yourself.

( Posted by: sandra [Member] On: February 26, 2009 )

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