LfMM Suzan Lauder’s 100-Word Editing Checklist

I said in an earlier post that I’d share my list of words to search for if you want to un-muddy your writing to help you self-edit. (Lesson #2 and #3 at end of post). This list is a golden gem of mine that started after I read a book called Editor-Proof Your Writing by Don McNair. I’ve used the ideas he suggested in the book and added many of my own to create a list of 100 words to search for to improve your writing.

“100 words?” you ask, “Isn’t that tedious?”

Yes it is. And if you don’t use these words, or get in the habit of it after having searched for the 100 a few times, your writing will shine. It’s worth tedium of a few rounds to get better as a writer. In addition, if you, like may authors, want to shave some word count off your novel, this review can often cut 5% of word count at first. Yes, my writing was 5% muddy before it ever got to an editor!

My over-used words at one point or another: that, look, act, then, such, all, as, about, turned, smile, scowl, however, in fact. What are yours?

But there’s more: I like to pare down adverbs to the minimum by rewording (including considering the adverb as the verb or adjective instead) or cutting, but I don’t believe in removing them totally, as they do have their purpose. A good rule of thumb is an average of no more than one -ly adverb per page of text. Adverbs like really, totally, only, and just can almost always be cut.

There are words I’ve taught myself to limit use, and the top of that list is another adverb: very. Most of the time, this adverb is your story begging for a better adjective. Very small: diminutive. Very old: antiquated. Very pretty: beautiful. Very late: tardy. Very lazy: lackadaisical. You get the idea. Get to be friends with a good thesaurus for better word use.

Some word formations can signal passive tone, such as a verb ending in –ed with to, or some –ing words, or had with another verb. Keep it active.

If you want to be a good POV (point of view) writer in third person deep point of view, you must get rid of “filter” words. More on that in a POV post, but I mention it because it’s on the cheat sheet.

If you’re like me, and write period fiction, you’ll also want to find words that were not in use during the period and exchange them for something more appropriate to the times. For example, the word “high-tech” is from the 1970’s, so you don’t want it in your Second World War story or older. Since I write Regency, I’ll have a post on Regency language later in the series.

How to use the checklist? In MS Word, there’s a function called “Find” on the “Home” tab. Type in the letters of the checklist item, then use the arrows in the pop-up box to go from one to the next. Evaluate each case, and if needed, reword, watching not to get into the rut of using another muddy style. You don’t have to change them all, just the ones that are easy to change. Soon, you’ll recognize your style and which words are never a problem for you.

After using the list a few times, you’re bound to customize the 100-word list for yourself, adding words your beta reader has indicated are over-used and crossing off those you have no issues with. These change from time to time, so be flexible with your checklist.

Suzan Lauder’s 100 word Editing Checklist

The applicable lessons to this post:

Suzan Lauder’s Learn from My Mistakes Lesson #2: Several full author edits are the preferred norm for ensuring quality writing.


Suzan Lauder’s Learn from My Mistakes Lesson #3: Keep a checklist of your most common errors and use a “Find” function to clean them up during your later editing process.

I hope a few of you share some words that would be on your list in the comments for this post. Enjoy your self-editing experiences!


Please note the new widget on the right panel of my blog main page at the bottom. It takes you to my newest story posting for free at AHA, A Most Handsome Gentleman (formerly known as “Hot Collins”). It’s funny!


Writers, Betas, and Editors: all top Writing Resources for Learning from my Mistakes

Who taught me the best writing lessons, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous?

First, I have to ask: where do you as an author learn to become a better writer? Like most others, I try to read to find ways to improve. I find it easier to read short articles or blog posts than a book. The books recommended to me are written by well-known authors, and the writing advice I’ve heard quoted from them seems a bit fishy, so I don’t trust that their book is going to be helpful. In fact, many sound like marketing and vanity tools.

The best lessons for me personally came from other individuals, including other writers, beta editors, and my Meryton Press editing team. I think the best talent to help a writer grow and excel is a willingness to listen and change, even if it’s hard at first.

Learning from other writers by extensive reading goes back to Lesson #1: As an author, your goal is to provide a reading experience with the greatest level of satisfaction that is within your control. I evaluate the pluses and minuses of other books and try to improve my own work based on that reading experience. I also act as a beta editor for other authors, which is a great way to learn, as I have to look up items such as in Lesson #5: If in doubt, look it up.

A not-so-secret technique is to have several friends review my chapters as I write.
Beta readers help keep me on track by critiquing all aspects of the story. I’ve learned a lot of techniques to help me grow as a writer from listening to these cherished advisors, who are generally writers and readers in the author’s genre.

Usually by the time I’ve finished incorporating their suggestions, the plot flows well, the style is consistent, no glaring continuity problems remain, anachronisms (errors in history and language in a non-modern novel) are corrected, the characterization is consistent and will please readers, good habits are employed with the storyteller’s point of view, the spelling is error-free, most of the punctuation follows rules we as well educated persons can agree upon, and so on. Different authors have different weak spots, and a trusted beta can help from brainstorming prior to writing to final cold reading for typos and everything in between.

Suzan Lauder’s Learn from My Mistakes Lesson #6: Beta readers can help an author at all points in the writing process.

They’re also free help, and with love and respect for the huge leaps and bounds my betas have taken my stories through, I must stress that, unless the story is not all that complex, problems will remain within the novel that none of us have experienced before.

That’s why I need professional editors for my work, and I strongly encourage all authors to consider this valuable resource. That impoverished journalism student, the English major who offered to help, a teacher you know, or your sweet Aunt Sally may be free or almost free help, but they’re not necessarily aware of all the details of proper copy editing and proofreading for a novel, which has rules and conventions of its own, never mind how to fit them into the layout for an e-book or print book.

My viewpoint on this is strengthened by experience reading novels written or edited by teachers and English majors that contained numerous simple errors like we discussed in our “Lesson 5” last post, never mind editing conventions they had no clue about! I read a novel by a professional editor who should have hired a professional editor. We just don’t see our own mistakes, and amateur editors don’t recognize them.

Another important issue is that writers must listen to their editors and not disregard their good advice. There’s no use in getting good advice if you sell a book full of problems that you could have avoided, but your vanity wouldn’t let you modify. Amazon readers like to attack those problem areas, and a disclaimer is insulting to both you and your editor.

Suzan Lauder’s Learn from My Mistakes Lesson #7: Every author listens to and incorporates the advice of one or more professional editors who know the conventions specific to their style, content, sub-genre, etc. There are no exceptions.

My sympathy goes out to those who have hired poor quality editors. As in any job situation, impartial references and entrance exams are important. Most editors will give you a few free pages to see if they are a “fit.” Also, read a published book they’ve edited.

Next post: some examples of when I had to suck it up and listen to my editor.

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!




Reader knows best! Suzan Lauder’s new blog series “Learning from my Mistakes”

Suzan Lauder, Exhibit #158 at the Jane Austen Festival of Port Alberni, July 2016

Suzan Lauder, Exhibit #158 at the Jane Austen Festival of Port Alberni, July 2016

A couple of months ago, I thought about all I was learning while editing my latest novel and decided I’d write a few blog posts on the topic to help others learn from my experience. I thought I’d start writing posts straight away, but editing my novel, and my husband’s last minute decision to retire early, and editing, and summer, and editing, and working with the cover artist, and editing, and a Jane Austen Festival, and editing, and my niece’s visit, and editing all stepped in.

I haven’t had a haircut in more than three months, and the end-of-season sales are over and I still haven’t found that elusive perfect pair of low-heeled dressy wedge sandals with no toe post but a full ankle strap for next winter in Mexico. Fussy, right? You would be too if you’d turned your ankle one too many times on steep driveways across the sidewalk.

But the introductory post is now written and in your sweaty little palms. Or so it would be if this were 1979. More on that later.

Now we begin our journey together. We’re here to giggle over this author’s mistakes. Each post will have a few examples of my own revelations as lessons to all writers, perhaps to give you a boost rather than let you learn the hard way. The end result isn’t about my opinions any more than the opinions of writing experts, editors, publishers, or any person other than the reader.

parasol resized for bullet pointsSuzan Lauder’s “Learning from my Mistakes” Lesson #1: As an author, your goal is to provide a reading experience with the greatest level of satisfaction that is within your control.

Some of what I’ve learned as a writer in the last few years is different than in classic novels or “What We Learned in School” (as if the capitals in our voice somehow make it Gospel). Some say these techniques are trends, buzz phrases, “flavour of the month.” Yet, if techniques you think are buzz phrases are guaranteed to give the reader greater satisfaction, what’s stopping you from incorporating them into your story?

Hmmm? What’s that? I can’t hear you.

“The way I do it is was good enough for Hemingway.”

Are you Hemingway? If Hemingway knew ways to make the reader enjoy his novels more, would he have said the way he does it is “good enough?” Perhaps. But he had a gift that 99% of writers do not, so we have to fill the gap by utilizing every tool available to us.

An interesting story Miss Ray, by William Wood, 1806, Met Museum.

An interesting story Miss Ray, by William Wood, 1806, Met Museum.

I struggle to be a good writer where others find it easier. Ease is not a good reason to sit back on your laurels over and over again. You may get a toned butt and quadriceps, but that’s about it. Yeah, I suck at idioms.

Perhaps as an author, you can sell loads of books that are merely “good enough,” but as a reader, don’t you prefer that extra little something? It’s sort of like warming the speculum, chilling the beer mug, smiling at the end of the transaction.

Good writing practice is never “flavour of the month.” If you’re arguing against good writing practice, either you don’t understand the specific application or you’re making excuses to dig in your heels in a world that’s already made the big change. Despite my use of a goofy idiom, it’s no longer 1979, but if you want to stick with the way you’ve always done it, have fun with your typewriter.

Instead, I hope my blog followers enjoy how I describe newer writing concepts to make them easier to understand, and that other authors may be inspired and brave enough to give them a try.

I don’t expect to change the world, just entertain you for a few minutes. Please, have a few laughs at my expense as I bare all my “problems” as a writer!

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!