Chapter Eleven of How to Write Creative Non-fiction by Donna Kay Kakonge

Hello and welcome to chapter eleven on the tools of self-editing. The editor is an important part of the writing process. There are many jobs that can be found in editing and every writer needs a good editor. An important thing to keep in mind is every writer needs to know how to edit their material. There are some tricks to make it helpful and effective:

  • Read your copy out loud – if you stumble on a word, it probably needs to be reworded
  • Use dictionaries, thesauri, and books like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style for grammar use and vocabulary expansion
  • Books like On Writing Well by William Zinsser can also give you great advice on how to write and is a well-respected source of material in the field
  • Always use  the  spell-check  functions  on  your  word  processing  software before you hand in a creative non-fiction assignment to an editor

There are other things to keep in mind as well:

  • Always look for where you can edit words like “that” and “which”
  • Try to write in complete sentences, with the exception of visual media – sometimes phrases can come in handy

Here are some final words from Zinsser’s On Writing Well:

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

Who can understand the vicious language of everyday American commerce: the memo, the corporation report, the business letter, the notice from

the bank explaining its latest, “simplified” statement? What member of a insurance or medical plan can decipher the brochure explaining his costs and benefits? What father or mother can put together a child’s toy from the instructions on the box? Our national tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important. The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation wouldn’t think of saying it may rain. The sentence is too simple – there must be something wrong with it.

But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long world that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what – these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to education and rank (Zinsser, 2006).

This is an important thing to note as your writing your copy and also self-editing for it to receive final review from your editor.


Self-editing is an important tool in knowing how to simplify language and keep copy clean. Before you give your final assignment to an editor, it’s important to deliver a product as free from error as possible.


Read the article below and make it more precise by cutting out less important elements and rewording the article as necessary. This assignment is meant to teach you how to how to be brief with your writing without loosing the essence of the message your trying to convey. Once you have rewritten the article to be shorter, upload your work to your personal website for review.

Here is an excerpt from a short story collection called The New Story Writers edited by John Metcalf. This selection is from Douglas Glover called “The Obituary Writer”:

We drifted along in this empire of death like accursed phantoms

-de Ségur

Aiden is in St.Joseph’s, dying of head injuries. Annie has gone Catholic on me. She has quite school and taken a job at a home for retarded children in West Saint John. She works the graveyard shift so she can spend the day with Aiden. Mornings, she visits the hospital chapel for mass. I hardly ever see her.

Of all the brothers and sisters (there are a dozen O’Reillys, counting the parents), Aiden and Annie were closest in age and sympathy, though all they ever did in public was bicker and complain about one another. Aiden was the family clown, a bespectacled, jug-eared, loud-mouthed ranter, given to taunting the younger children and starting fights – though he once sang in the cathedral choir and spent a year trying to teach himself the guitar. Annie is boyish and prim. She dawdles over her make-up, ties her red hair back and gets average grades in her university ebooks. But like many people who spend their lives reining themselves in, she has a soft spot in her heart for eccentrics and outsiders. One always knew that if anything happened to Aiden, it would be hardest on Annie. It is also natural that she should flail about, trying to locate beyond herself an agent responsible for this terrible tragedy. I say “beyond herself” on purpose, because, of course, Annie O’Reilly blames herself for everything first. Then me.

Mornings, in the chapel, she and God are sorting all this out. But I have little hope that He will see fit to represent my side of things.