An Editing Guide

The list below contains words to watch out for in one’s writing. Consider these go-to-words a security blanket—your comfort zone. Make a list of these words and place them where you can see them, so you can kill them. Find another way to say something or break out the synonyms. Feel free to add more of these little buggers to your working list as they pop up.

Walk Talk Touch Push Pull Then Quiver
Tremble Sigh Gasp Slide Up Down That

The following words can make things seem out of order. An editor friend of mine once said, “It is best to just say what you mean without utilizing these words.” Plus, sometimes, using ‘these words’ (especially AS, DURING, and WHILE) can pull content out of chronological order, which one doesn’t want to happen.

AS (this one is a huge pet-peeve of mine and requires its own place)


AS in all its Glory:

The wooden planks of the houseboat groaned in protest under the soles of John Jones’ bare feet. In front of the refrigerator, or what passed for one on his humble abode, John rubbed a kink out of his neck. Hand wrapped around the steel handle, he wondered what he’d find inside. A gust of frigid air blew over his arms, causing goosebumps AS he grabbed a bottle of water AFTER he opened the door but BEFORE he closed it.

Granted, this sentence is designed to make a point: simply say what happened first in a lean and concise manner. In this case, John must open the door to get a bottle of water. So, what happens in the process.

  1. John grabs the handle
  2. John opens the door
  3. A gust of cold wind blows
  4. John gets goosebumps
  5. John grabs water
  6. John closes the door

Again, state what happens first without producing a long, winding sentence with AS, BEFORE, AFTER, WHILE, and DURING. Play around with the sentence and see what you come up with. Feel free to leave your creation in the comment section.

Filter Word Hit List (they often follow a name or pronoun):

(he sees)
(she heard)
(Jan thinks)
(he touched)
(I wonder)
Realize Watch Look Seem Feel/feel like
Decide Sound/sound like Notice To be able to Note
Experience Observe Know (I know) Understand Can
Thought Say/said Reply (I reply) Respond Wish (I wish)

More on Filter/filler Words:

If the character sees (watches) the sun rise then, why say, “I see the sun rise, or s/he sees the sun rise?”

When you, as a person, watch the sun rise, do you think to yourself, “Oh wow, I see the sun rising overhead?”

No, you don’t—yes, it sounds a bit snarky, but the comment helps the content stay fresh in one’s head.

  • (with a filter) I see the sun rise overhead
  • (without filter) The sun rises overhead
  • (with filter) I feel sick.
  • (without filter) I am sick. Sam was sick. (***get descriptive and show how sick feels).
  • (with filter) I hear a blood-curdling scream from the hallway. It sounds like Sammy is in trouble.
  • (without filter) A  blood-curdling scream breaks the silence of the night. It filters in from the dark hallway. Sammy. He’s in trouble.
  • (with filter) The handbag is rough under my fingertips, and it reminds me of my dad’s rattlesnake boots.
  • (without filter) The handbag is rough beneath my fingertips—just like my father’s rattlesnake boots.
  • (with filter) She looks scared with her eyes wide open and her lips quiver.
  • (without filter) Her eyes widen and her bottom lip quivers. Fear etches the fine contours of her ethereal face.

Some crazy quirks I’ve seen in writing sometimes.

  1. Using the wrong tense/form of the root word. For example happen/s (present) instead of writing happened (past).
  2. Utilization of the wrong homophone: sales for sails, feel for fill, vice or vise etc.–watch these closely.
  3. Typing out words that should be contractions. Watch for this issue in your writing because people speak with contracts. Keep in mind, if a character uses them then you must be consistent. If they don’t use them (to show formal or foreign ties to country/location) then be consistent then, as well.

Let’s play around with an exercise.

Take 300 to 600-words of a novel scene written in 1st or 3rd person and limit your use of pronouns to a total of three (3) only.

For example, 1st person you’d limit the use of me, my, mine, and I. And for 3rd person, you’d limit the use of s/he, him/her, his/hers, etc).

This exercise limits filters, tightens one’s MS, and makes the content read active (showing).


DESIGNER COFFEE LINGERED in the air. The sweet aroma filled Detective Maxwell’s nose, teasing the senses. A kitchen must be nearby. Coffee. He’d have given a right arm for a single cup about now. Not the fancy dry-roasted, double espresso, frappé crap. No. Double shifts and sleep deprivation called for the black sludge of death waiting at the station. The stuff that cleaned radiators and grew hair on any surface. But tonight, luck was an obscure commodity and after a double shift, the cup was still empty.

Play around with how to show the action instead of telling the reader what is happening. Use all five senses to bring the world you’ve created to life. And when you think you have enough description, add some more just for good measure.

Other repeats to add to your Word Kill List (slay as many as you can):

These should go on a separate list to review at the end of your self-editing process. You can do a search (CTRL+F) and locate each word in your MS and makes changes when and where needed.

Also, watch out for repeat words that start multiple back-to-back sentences in the same paragraph or on a single page, as well as back-to-back paragraphs. You’ll want to avoid ending one sentence with a word only to start the next with the same word. Don’t do this. And no, you aren’t seeing double. Some of the words listed below are repeats of the content above, but they are worth duplicating for this end list exercise in self-editing. Also, don’t be shy, add some of your own words to this list because you’ll find them during the editing phase.


Editors may impart some snarky or funny information during the editing phase, crack a joke or two, or provide examples of suggested changes. And with that said, writing is highly subjective as is editing, so keep in mind, an edit focuses on ways to make the body of work shine. A thick skin and the ability to distance oneself is a beneficial skill a writer must learn.

Edits aren’t personal, they are only given to help strengthen the work.

One thing to remember, if you feel strongly about a section, phrase, or word in your body of work, discuss this with the editor. After all, an editor wants your work to succeed just as much as you do. One key thing to keep in mind, the work in progress is your baby, so be honest about how you feel regarding changes (with yourself and the editor); however, be sure to read each comment void of an emotional connection to the project at hand because at the end of the day, you want your work to shine, and sometimes for that to happen, a few little darlings, that don’t move the story forward or develop a character, must be purged for the good of the story. The combine goal of the day is to find the areas where the manuscript can improve and shine like a gem.

Thank you,

DLG Publishing Partners

‘A Passion for Content’