Editing Masterguide by KU Creative Writing Staff and Writers in Residence

InterviewsPut down your pens, close your books and bid farewell to the MA Full-time Creative Writing class of 2014.

Now pick them back up and reopen Lockhurst quickly as we’ve got the mother of all workloads ahead. May submissions seem like a dot in the distance but we’ve all learned from semester one, time is notoriously deceptive. Especially if you’re like a certain member of the Words, Pauses, Noises team who leaves posting to the eleventh hour.

But fear not as our delightful tutors and writers in residence have bequeathed one final gift. Words, Pauses, Noises are honoured to present the top editing tips and advice, tried and trusted by our mentors and tutors. Gather around children because for some reason, I envision this post printed out and stuck up on many fridges over the coming weeks, including my own.

Jonathan Barnes:

  • Read your final drafts aloud – this will help to eliminate small repetitions, glitches etc. All text seems different when it is spoken.
  • Highlight clichés, then eradicate them!
  • Read a page of writing by an author whom you really admire and then return to your own editing, uplifted and inspired.

James Miller:

  • Where you have a long paragraph, cut the first and last sentence. These are usually waffle, the writerly equivalent of clearing your throat. This tip also applies to non-fiction.
  • Write early drafts long-hand, then type it up then print it out then go over it long hand. Then type up your corrections. Then repeat throughout the process. You should expect to do this many, many times.
  • Finished a final draft? Well done. Now open a new document and start again. You now have to re-write the entire book from scratch but with reference to the earlier draft. You are not allowed to copy and paste any of the old draft. Doing this will tighten your prose and intensify the drama of your story and is particularly good if, having ‘finished’ the first draft, you feel there is still something lacking. In general the more times you can go-over and rewrite, the better.

Paul Bailey:

  • Make one adjective do the work.
  • Avoid exclamation marks at all times.
  • Keep adverbs to the absolute minimum.
  • If you are writing dialogue, say it aloud to yourself before you finally commit it to paper.
  • Be your own ruthless critic.

Vesna Goldsworthy:

  • Make sure you know what a word means before you use it.
  • If in doubt, leave it out.
  • Are you writing rubbish or garbage? Stick to one version of English and set your spell-checker accordingly.

Paul Perry:

  • Consider Cormac McCarthy’s ‘ugly truth’: books are made out of other books.
  • Turn his insight inside out. Consider the truth to be a beautiful one and read.
  • Be selective about what you read and choose your predecessors with care.

Adam Baron:

  • Try cutting the first and last paragraph of each chapter.
  • Cut any paragraph that doesn’t make your protagonist’s life better or worse.
  • Go on an adverb hunt: Seek and destroy.

Judith Watts:

  • Read, read, read to improve your grasp on what compels us to read on.
  • Turn up at the page. You have to be there to keep doing it.
  • Understand the business end of being a writer.


And there you go, one year of free-falling into and out of the Kingston Creative Writing Masters in a little over five hundred words. This, of course skims the surface to the surgical process our work will undergo in the coming months but you’ve gained insight into the magnificent psyche of the KU staff and writers in residence, and hopefully one or two of these techniques will resonate going forward into life.

A big thank you to the KU Staff for these golden nuggets. And to the brave souls trudging onwards to the dissertation, all the very best from the Words, Pauses, Noises Team.

Don’t forget to pop by the Ram Jam tonight at 7pm for the KWS Fiction for Performance Show, showcasing a stellar variety of works. Order a cheeky pint and get cozy amidst the shadows as the Fiction for Performance class serenade you with prose and poetry. 



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