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What Authors Learned from their Editors

I was thinking lately about the weird things authors do-- personal tics-- when they write. Overusing certain phrases or terms, bad uses of punctuation, etc.

For me, editing, even copyediting, is rather enlightening.

- I have always said, "She walked towards the street." Um, no. There's not supposed to be an S on there, at least not in the US.

- My editor told me while editing IN TOO DEEP, "Are you aware you use the term Hyper-Aware about a million times? I've become hyper aware of your use of hyper aware."

-The same editor also told me he was convinced I had "random capitalization disease." Sometimes I capitalize Ice Skating. Other times I don't capitalize washington. or coke. And trust me, my characters like coke. It could be pretty bad.

So, I thought it would be fun to ask my author friends what THEY learned from their editors, and here are their answers:

Jennifer Brown, author of HATE LIST AND BITTER END:

On my last manuscript it was "just." I spent an entire two-hour flight just deleting "justs." Also, I learned from my copyeditor that Dumpster needs to be capitalized, and I'm pretty sure my copyeditor would jump up and down with glee if I learned the difference between "each other" and "one another."

Saundra Mitchell, Author of SHADOWED SUMMER and THE VERSPERTINE:

My books are populated entirely by bobbleheads. If I had to remove every single head nod, bob, shake and tip(ped sideways) I would literally lose 3000 words right off the top.

Jennifer Brown adds: Me too, only mine are always gazing into one another's (each other's? GAH!) eyes.


I have the happiest characters on earth. I say "smile" ten gazillion times (give or take a few gazillions) a book.

Megan Crewe, author of GIVE UP THE GHOST and the forthcoming THE WAY WE FALL, says:

I learned that I have a tendency to use "further" when I should write "farther." And I've also learned that just how many ways US speech is different from Canadian (e.g., in Canada we say "grade six"; in the US you say "sixth grade.")

Jennifer Jabaley, author of LIPSTICK APOLOGY and CRUSH CONTROL adds:

I confuse the terms 'bring' and 'take'. For example I'm going to bring her to the airport instead of take. Wait, it should be take, right? SEE, I still don't know.

Michelle Zink, author of the PROPHECY OF THE SISTERS trilogy and TEMPTATION OF ANGELS, says:

Pre-edit, I use the word "knowledge" A LOT.

Like, 126 times in one book.

Cheryl Herbsman, author of BREATHING says:

Commas. I use them when I don't need to and don't use them when I do need to! It led to whole discussions between me, my editor, and copyeditor :)

Kim Derting, author of THE BODY FINDER and THE PLEDGE says:
I'm a "just"er too.

Also, still don't know how to use lay and lie properly. True story.

And this last book, I learned my characters have glittering/sparkling/glinting eyes. All of them.

I also misuse words and often don't learn the true meaning until copy edits. In The Pledge it was "stringent" (I meant "astringent" apparently). Entirely different meanings ;)


I can't seem to learn when to capitalize Mom and Dad, and I'm also forever forgetting when my characters have stood up or sat down and have them repeatedly sitting and standing like they're in church!

Malindo Lo, author of ASH and HUNTRESS says:

Add me to the "just" club. I'm currently stripping what seems like hundreds of them from my book — up to five per page at a time! It's like once there's one "just" the others just start multiplying. They like to appear in packs.

I also love the em dash like nobody's business, but I'm not giving them up! *clings to —*

Cindy Pon, author of SILVER PHOENIX adds:

I learned that if you are using ellipses, and it's actually at the end of a whole sentence, you use FOUR periods....

Cyn Balog, author of FAIRY TALE, SLEEPLESS, and STARSTRUCK says:
I think I said "rifle" as in, "she rifled through her bag" 250 times in a 250 page manuscript. And I learned while writing Fairy Tale that Tinker Bell is two words.

Rhonda Stapleton, author of the STUPID CUPID trilogy says:
I have an em-dash fetish, and I loooooove...love...ellipses.

Also, I have a problem with body parts acting of their own volition. E.g., eyes reaching across the room, fingers walking on their own, legs twitching. Zombie apocalypse much?


That Google Translate isn't always your best friend when it comes to inserting witty commentary in another language. :-)

Janet Gurtler, author of  I'M NOT HER and IF I TELL says:

My editor thought that my book, waiting to score, sounded like gay erotic porn because of the first sentences I had. Which my editor made me change

Danielle Joseph, author of  SHRINKING VIOLET, PURE RED, and INDIGO BLUES, says:

In Pure Red I learned that it's not easy to shove cracker crumbs in your pocket when you are kneeling so I had to get Cassia off the floor.

Charity Tahmaseb, author of GEEKS GUIDE TO CHEERLEADING, says:

I learned that not everyone knows what a "hotdish" is and that it might need a description (as in "tuna noodle") for clarity.

Also, we apparently used the term "insanely short skirt" 276 times in Geek Girl. It was suggested we cut back on those.

(To which Rhonda Stapleton added:
I've been to my daughter's high school--you weren't exaggerating in your quantity. haha).

So, readers... what did YOU Learn from your editors, critique partners, etc? Any personal writing ticks you'd like to share?


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 30th, 2011 03:58 pm (UTC)
my editor changes several of my "that"s to "which". NOOOOO! I'll spend ten minutes rewriting a sentence to get out of putting that creepy which in my sentences. *clings to thats til the end of time!*
Sep. 30th, 2011 04:02 pm (UTC)
haha! that's so funny.

My last project I would say, "It's like she hates me or something" and someone kept changing my "likes" to "as if."

"It's as if she hates me or something."

To me its a voice thing! I never say "as if".
Sep. 30th, 2011 04:27 pm (UTC)
As if...
Me to, I was totally like, "as if any teenager I know says 'as if!"
Sep. 30th, 2011 04:02 pm (UTC)
I really, really like really. First revision of my novel, I ran a search for really and deleted about 300 of them. Out of 86,000 words. I need Really Rehab.
Sep. 30th, 2011 04:07 pm (UTC)
'Bring' is used when the person you're talking to is where you're going. 'Take' is used when the person you're talking is where' you're leaving from.
I tend to be too grammatically correct, using 'had been' instead of 'was' and 'was' instead of simple past tense. I trimmed several thousand words from my first novel just by rearranging the sentences to not use had, that, was, and were.
Sep. 30th, 2011 04:09 pm (UTC)
I need to know what Janet's original erotic gay porn first line was! Make her tell us, Mandy.

I like to use words with opposite meanings, like in my last set of edits, I said "at the ripe age of four" - meaning young...not actually "ripe". I'm also infected with the dreaded each other/one another disease.

Such a fun post!
Sep. 30th, 2011 04:10 pm (UTC)
In my first book, readers noticed that everyone popped their eyebrows. Seriously, everyone in the damn book did SOMETHING with their eyebrows on almost every page. (What? I think eyebrows are expressive.) Well, I noticed that and I'm getting better. But as I'm editing my 4th book I am seeing a new trend... curling lips. She curled her lips in disgust... that kind of thing. UGH! Lips are this book's eyebrows!
Sep. 30th, 2011 04:11 pm (UTC)
Embarassing writing ticks
My editor once remarked that I tend to set very emotional scenes in the bathroom! Not that the characters are taking care of you-know-what in the loo, but yes when I thought about it she was right in that I'd set two big scenes in the said room.

Now I'm very careful about settings!
Sep. 30th, 2011 04:22 pm (UTC)
Lay, lie, laid--I hate you!

The Canadian/American/British ones screw me up regularly. I've been here long enough that I can no longer say that what sounds natural is the Canadian one, so I'm officially culturally and linguistically confused.

Oh yeah, and my editor had me deleting about three THENs per page of the novel I just finished editing. Apparently that's pretty annoying to read.
Sep. 30th, 2011 04:22 pm (UTC)
I haven't had an editor catch tics, but I used a tag cloud tool to analyze one of my manuscripts and discovered that my characters shrug ALL THE TIME.

Sep. 30th, 2011 04:43 pm (UTC)
I agree with Denise! I wanna see these sentences from Janet's book now, lol.

As for me, I haven't written enough (or had an editor) to know my problems yet, but I do know that in emails and writing reviews, I use the em dash WAY too often. Also, parentheses. I do also think I have problems with comma usage.
Sep. 30th, 2011 05:04 pm (UTC)
Agh! JUST gets me every time. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one. I'm also guilty of occasionally using a word I don't actually know how to define, and probably using it wrong.

It's not JUST me!
Sep. 30th, 2011 05:36 pm (UTC)
Then the author answered, "then" is my problem word. Thank God for the "find" or "find and replace" ability in Word!!!

(no subject) - Lauren Morrill-Ragusea - Sep. 30th, 2011 05:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Karen A. Wyle
Sep. 30th, 2011 07:06 pm (UTC)
Perhaps. Wonder. Stare. Nod. I'm off to the find a cloud tag tool to see what other words I use with addictive abandon.
Sep. 30th, 2011 07:36 pm (UTC)
My characters were smiling way too much, too. (Maybe I was trying to cheer myself up?) Why I didn't notice this until someone pointed it out, I have no idea.
Gail Shepherd
Sep. 30th, 2011 08:34 pm (UTC)
Another *just*-er here. "they come in packs." hilarious.
Sep. 30th, 2011 09:51 pm (UTC)
HAHAH, Mandy, I remember when I used to critique your stuff back in the day and your random capitalizations!! I remember you once capitalized "silver" and I couldn't figure out why.

Adam is bad with commas.

I notice a lot of stuff because I am a copy editor. But I don't know what my ticks are. :)

Edited at 2011-09-30 09:52 pm (UTC)
Oct. 1st, 2011 01:34 pm (UTC)
Loved this post, thanks!
Oct. 1st, 2011 02:45 pm (UTC)
Fantastic post. What I like is how I do a search and find on one pet word, then a new word crops up to take its place.
Oct. 1st, 2011 07:06 pm (UTC)
It's so fascinating to see what different people's writing tics are. "Just" and "really" are two of mine, and when I was polishing my last manuscript, I did one separate pass to deal with all the head-nods. Thank goodness for "Find."
Oct. 1st, 2011 08:10 pm (UTC)
I overuse just, that, and really. Whenever there's an argument, the characters always start the sentence with "look". My MC is always saying "On the one hand" and then "On the other hand". Every single time she has some sort of internal dilemma, that's how it starts.

Oct. 2nd, 2011 05:49 am (UTC)
My characters apparently sigh a lot. Had a fun time deleting all of THOSE out of my MS...

(I used to be a 'just'-er. Now I'm more aware and watch out for it as I'm writing.)
Oct. 3rd, 2011 11:53 am (UTC)
Love it! I think I've done most of those and a few more LOL!
Oct. 7th, 2011 03:58 pm (UTC)
Oh, Saundra, NOW I know why you were so stringent about all the nodding in my first fifty pages! Also the frowning. :) My characters are serious people and frown a lot. This can become wearing to the reader.

I suspect that my characters sigh a lot, too. That remains to be seen.

Great post! I'm here from YA highway.
Oct. 7th, 2011 09:22 pm (UTC)
To you and the lovely Jessica Spotswood, who was the one who told me to take out all the frowning and nodding!
(no subject) - bradhuebert - Oct. 25th, 2011 08:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 26th, 2011 11:45 pm (UTC)
I did a related article for my Tumblr
I sent out an Open Call to writers, giving some general quotes about editing and asking for personal experiences. It seems to me that most aspiring authors don't know much about this process and are very curious. I used about a dozen replies, all from authors who were edited by professionals. See www.nelliesabin.tumblr.com - go back 4 months using the archives calendar and you'll see Open Call.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
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