How do you edit your 1,000-word article in five minutes, your 5,000-word short story in ten, and your 400-page novel in under an hour?

Hint: forget spell check.

Delete "MISTAKE"

Photo via Terrance Heath

A few years ago, I wrote articles for the music section of a local weekly. Desperate for assignments, I agreed to an article with a brutal turnaround. The Shiny Toy Guns show my editor gave me to review would be over at one in the morning on Sunday night, and since the paper went to press on Monday, my article was due first thing Monday morning.

No bueno.

When I made it home at 1:30 AM after the show, I chugged a coke and sat down at the computer. I spent most of the night writing, slept a few hours in the middle of the night, and finished the rough draft at 7:55 AM. The article was due in five minutes, and I still had to edit the stupid thing.

Five minutes to edit 1,000 words? Que loco! How was I going to do it?

Has this ever happened to you? Your English essay, newspaper article, book review, novel, 900-page tome about the rise of democracy in Eastern Europe is due in five minutes and you haven’t finished editing it?

Introducing the Rapid Editing Checklist.

You can make these three edits in five minutes or less, and your teacher/editor/publisher will be smiling when they read it. Well, maybe not smiling, but at least they won’t be crying and shredding your manuscript up into bits.

 1. Replace Weak Verbs.

Search (CTRL + F) for weak verbs like the following:

  • is
  • was
  • am
  • were
  • being
  • are
  • get
  • got

Replace those weak-sauce verbs with some con mas grande cojones. I don’t know why I’m bringing out the Spanish on this post.

Not “Spot was running through the woods.” Instead, “Spot ran through the woods.”

Not “She got them a present.” Instead, “She gave them a present.”

2. Remove Adverbs.

Search (CTRL + F) for “ly” and take out adverbs, replacing with concrete detail.

Not “He laughed heartily.” Perhaps instead, “He slapped the table as his laugh shook the room.”

3. Take out other weak words.

Start by searching (CTRL + F) for “that.” Cut as many as you can without ruining the structure.

Not “The dress that she wore tore at the seam.” Instead, “The dress she wore tore at the seam.”

A few more cuttable words:

  • very
  • really
  • thing
  • stuff
  • almost
  • I think

I think this stuff is very easy, almost the easiest thing you could really do (see what I did there? I’m good, I know it).

PRACTICE

For ten minutes, free write about your day so far. Then, for five minutes, go through the rapid editing checklist. It might not even take you five minutes to finish.

Don’t forget to post your practice in the comments for feedback. Have fun!