Let It Swim

'Da boss sends his regards, Sammy.'

‘Da boss sends his regards, Sammy.’


Editing tips for listening to your inner literary gangster

Welcome gangsters.

Like the innocent young kid who comes to get a job at a family friend’s pizza shop it hasn’t taken me too long to realise that this pizza shop doesn’t just serve pizza. As my interest in writing has slowly carved a path in to editing I have learned a few tricks of the trade which I want I share with you so you can improve your writing as an edited piece before submitting it to a publisher.

A writer friend and I are currently compiling and editing an anthology for the Melbourne Writer’s Social Club to be published by TAT Publishing. During this process we have found that we have had to split the task in to smaller components to make it easier. Because we are a writing group it is important that we support each other, no haphazard finger chopping for using an adverb, just solid conversation. So here is a nice little analogy for you, consider it a gift.

Before I start, one thing that my friend and I agreed on is that each piece needs to be read out loud. When you read out loud it gives you the opportunity to cut any unnecessary words and enhances one’s writing voice. I know I have often sat before a piece of work and ummed and ahhed about whether to cut something. In true gangster style, if it doesn’t feel right, if it doesn’t belong, just let it swim with the fishes. You should be playing trial and error with your words. Remember you can always hold a sentence hostage while you speak to it’s remaining sentences and working out a deal at which you will come to a final decision as to which sentence will go and which will stay. Don’t feel bad about harming the little/cute/what-seems-perfect words either because they could be the stain upon your collared shirt that stops you from getting the deal.

The biggest thing is to remember that when you do eat a pizza, you don’t put the whole thing in your mouth at once, you eat it one slice at a time and each slice is taken bite by bite. Here’s how we do it.

Firstly, you need to do a structural edit. This is like a big picture edit where you make sure that every paragraph has a purpose and makes sense, or when you make sure all of the slices of the pizza have the same topping. If you’re writing an Australian outback thriller that is just dripping with tomato sauce, you’re not going to find one slice of pizza with chili sauce that represents a Mexican pool party for collage students, even though you think its funny, remove it. Chuck it. Give it to the dog. Feed it to the fishes. Don’t experiment professioally until you’re Steven King.

Once all of your pizza slices are the same, that’s when you can do a line edit. Check out each line in each paragraph. Does each slice of peperoni need to be there, or do you need to add more for flavour? Take it one slice at a time, or one paragraph at a time. Don’t rush, you’ll get too hot, you will choke on your own words. That way you will be able to think clearly and relate each paragraph and each line back to the whole piece. If it doesn’t feel right, let it swim.

And finally, this is the same with the macro edit which let’s face it, is the most tedious. Approach it bit by bit or bite by bite. You want to make sure that each bite has just the right amount of balance of flavour. If you find yourself chewing too long on one part, take it out, leave it to the side and you can decide later, with a different perspective if you should still need it or if it needs to be thrown to the dog.

After you have completed an edit, pack up for the day, take a long sleep and when you wake up the next day, repeat each edit. Eat another pizza. Do this until you hate it then love it again.


Once the editing is finished (it is never finished) send it to a friend or colleague for a second opinion. Give it one more chance to plead for it’s life. A different set of eyes will refresh the way even you look at it.

Then edit it again.

When you are editing, make sure that you stop and have a break. If you find yourself wasting too much time on one part, chuck it to the side and come back to it. Time is money and your time must be worthwhile for you are a literary gangster.

Now everything in moderation, including moderation and and remember, if it doesn’t feel right, if it doesn’t belong; let it swim with the fishes.