After you’ve revised your manuscript for the nth time, the final stretch of polishing can be daunting. You’ve maxed out your writing group’s goodwill and your own editing fatigue has set in. When you reach this point, Paula Munier’s tips on “principled polishing” will help a lot.
In her book, “Writing with Quiet Hands,” Munier devotes a chapter to “Revision Ritual.” Although you can hire an editor, you should learn how to edit your own work before you pay for help, says Munier, a senior literary agent at Talcott Notch.
In a writing workshop I attended many years ago, the best-selling novelist Bret Lott cautioned against the inherent conflict of interest when you hire an editor. There’s a possibility the editor will try to please you (as the employer) and give you what you want to see and hear.
If you’ve decided to hire a pro, learning how to edit means you’ll be able to judge for yourself if the editor you chose is doing a good job. As Munier says in her book, “It would behoove you to learn to copyedit your own work. Not doing so is like showing up for work unwashed and unkempt in shorts and flip-flops. It’s simply unprofessional.”
Paula Munier’s Tips
Munier offers a number of polishing tips in “Writing with Quiet Hands.” I will focus on three I’ve used the most in my latest revision.
Dialogue Tags: Munier advises against substituting “said” with fancy words. “Don’t use queried, proclaimed, pondered. Stick to said or use actions,” she wrote.
Elmore Leonard, best-selling author of “Get Shorty” and other crime novels, wrote a list of 10 writing rules. Number three was, “Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue.”
Hyperboles: As a romance author, I’ll be the first to admit my genre is fond of hyperboles. Romance novels are full of heroines who “forgot to breathe” at the sight of the hero and whose various body parts “throbbed” and “quivered” at the same time they’re not breathing!
Munier’s advice: “The more dramatic the story, the more you need to tell it straight…Otherwise you fall into melodrama, undermine your authority as a story teller, and lose the impact of your story.” This is true regardless of genre.
Clichés: “Common turns of phrase—hot as hell, cold as ice, soft as butter—clutter up your prose and diminish your style,” Munier wrote.
We use clichés in our everyday language so they can easily creep into our writing. When you’re polishing your manuscript, do a “sweep” and get rid of them.
Munier is not only a literary agent and an author, but also a writing teacher, editor, and content strategist. I’m very grateful she's my literary agent!
For more writing tips, check out Paula Munier’s books:
Read my review of “Writing with Quiet Hands” here.