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Welcome to The Literary Pig's blog - a safe haven for all those afflicted with
the unbearable urge to write.

Monday, 19 November 2012

How to be an effective editor with Sarah Higbee

Sarah Higbee is the Deputy Chair of West Sussex Writers and teaches Creative Writing at Northbrook College (Wothing). Her enthusiasm for guiding writers to improve their writing engulfed the audience of West Sussex Writers on 8 November at our monthly gathering. Sarah was keen to share her top tips for avoiding the dreaded slush pile. Even the brightest and shiniest ideas need polishing to catch an editor’s eye. On finishing a piece of work Sarah advised to first leave it alone:
  •          Short story / poem for a week
  •          Novel for 1-2 months

Get some distance before you start editing. And then slice up your editing into manageable chunks, so you can focus on different topics at each review. Sarah recommended using a checklist and then she shared her particular list:
1.       Structure: check there is a story arc; does the character have a journey?
2.       Strong beginning.
3.       Sufficient conflict.
4.       Subplots and minor characters: are they all needed?
5.       Strong climax: the moment in the story when everything changes i.e. the ‘tipping point’.
6.       Viewpoint: is this consistent throughout story?
7.       Dialogue: read aloud to check authenticity. Consistency of representation for external / internal     dialogue.
8.       Scene setting and description.
9.       Check for time anomalies.
10.    Writing style: know what your ‘wicked’ words are and get rid! (These are adverbs for the Indoor Writer or just and so). Look out for overuse of adverbs / adjectives and use effective verbs instead.
11.    Punctuation: accuracy and consistency.
12.    Consistent tense.

The Indoor Writer often reads aloud her work (scary!) but I'm going to share this top tip with her:
first turn a word file into a PDF file using Adobe, then go to View, click Read Out Loud option and click Activate. This allows you to listen to your story, while still following the manuscript. Sarah recommends this for picking up all the small errors and typos that can be easily missed.

Sarah emphasised the importance of always reading the publisher/agent’s submission guidelines before submitting any work. Some magazines/publishers have house styles for presentation and punctuation (particularly for dialogue) so always check these first. 

You can learn more about Sarah Higbee and her own writing at her website here.
And if you are interested in coming to a meeting of West Sussex Writers then check out the future programme (and how to join) here.


  1. All sounds like good advice. I'm off now to see if I can get my computer to read to me.

  2. Sound useful writing tips but particularly like the PDF one... :) I didn't know that Adobe could do that!! Also means you don't get distracted and drop into editing mode when you should be attending to the plot!

    1. Wonderful Patsy has tested out the Adobe read aloud and it works so have a go. I always read aloud my work, but often find the brain reads the word it thinks it should see and NOT the word that you've actually typed. I've had some howler mistakes slip through to submission...And yes you're right it means you can focus on other issues with the writing.

  3. Replies
    1. Wow thanks for being the guinea pig Patsy :) It does a great tool and once I've finished my current WIP story I'm going to try it out.

  4. My wicked word is 'that'! About West Sussex Writers: How many members does it have? Do most people go to all meetings or just when they feel like it? I'm not really a 'group' sort of person but think your speakers sound really interesting.

    1. We have about 80 members but many are just postal and don't come to the meetings. Each month we get 30-40 people depending on the topic (and Worthing weather!). Why not come along and try us - you don't have to join at first meeting. And the meetings are very informal and friendly - honest! Dec meeting is a book quiz so a social evening, but could be a chance to meet other members. Jan is a really interesting talk on crime writing and research. Let me know if you want to come along and I'll look out for you. New writers are always welcomed and committee members will make an effort to come talk to you and ensure you are ok. Also we run good competitions and have a book stall each month, plus raffle and FREE refreshments. Phew have sold WSW yet?

    2. Thanks, Tracy. I will try and go to the January crime talk. Will let you know if I do so I don't get that 'walking into a room for the first time' feeling!

  5. Liked the check list, Tracy and WSW sounds great - wish I lived nearer!

    1. Hope it can be of use - works well for short stories as well as longer fiction. And yes I felt the same way about you visiting Haworth. You can of course join WSW as a postal member and then enter the competitions and get the monthly ezine (hint, hint)...

  6. This is such a helpful list of check points. Thank you so much for sharing it! Edith xxx

  7. Thank you for the lovely comment Edith & good luck with that pocket novel. Can't wait to hear how that progresses :)