June 17, 2013

The New SEO: Optimization

By Elaine Marie Cooper

Forgive me for borrowing the popular acronym “SEO,” which usually means search engine optimization. As a writer, I am constantly trying to improve my craft. What better way to do so than through optimization, or making my words as effective as possible? I can accomplish this by good self-editing: Self-Editing Optimization.

Just thinking about editing makes the creative right side of my brain scream to be let loose, free to use words, punctuation, and grammar in novel ways. But let’s face it: Well formed sentences, accurately punctuated and without excessive words, make for a more pleasant time for our readers.

Think about the times you’ve received an e-mail filled with misspellings, run-on sentences, or poorly phrased sentiments. Did you cringe and want to whip out a red pen?

So in deference to our readers, as well as to those editors who bravely face the assault of misused semicolons and pronouns, let’s all hone our self-editing skills. Where does a serious writer begin?

First, invest a few dollars in a terrific writing guide that has been tutoring authors and others for years: The Elements of Style. There are several versions out there, some written by both William Strunk and E.B. White, which is the original, first copyrighted in 1935. Mine is an updated 2011 version written by William Strunk and William Strunk, Jr. If you have a Kindle, you can download the book for a few dollars and find a wealth of practical information about grammar, punctuation, and word usage. I find the formal writing style of Elements both humorous and informative. It is a quick read—mine is only 58 pages—and well worth your time.

My husband happens to be an editor. He has shared words of wisdom with me that I will share with you:

Read your text over immediately after you write it. If you write like I do, you will surely find multiple errors. Do that first edit. Take a break and put your missive aside. Read it again later—you will likely find even more errors this time. Read it out loud and you will find still more, perhaps minor, flaws that can be improved upon.

Spelling is a frequent problem that is usually helped with spellcheck. However, it is not foolproof and can lead you astray if you rely upon it religiously. Since I write historical novels, I often have to look up the correct spelling for certain words that my laptop has not a clue how to spell.

Every writer tends to make certain mistakes repeatedly. Learn where your weaknesses are. Is it using the same word over and over? Not varying the length of your sentences? Using excessive words rather than being concise? We all have bad habits that would likely infuriate William Strunk!

But don’t be too hard on yourself. Even Mr.Strunk used to be a fledgling writer. I am quite certain he may have misused a semi-colon or two along the way.

If you’re looking for an excellent source of informative tips for writing well, Cecil Murphey has a wonderful blog at He generously shares his “lessons learned from a lifetime of writing.”

Self-editing stretches me, but forces me to become a better wordsmith. And that is my goal as a writer, though it may take me a lifetime to learn all the lessons.
Elaine Marie Cooper is the author of The Road to Deer Run (Finalist in Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Religious Fiction, Honorable Mention in Romance at 2011 Los Angeles Book Festival), The Promise of Deer Run (Romance Winner for 2012 Los Angeles Book Festival, Finalist in Religious Fiction for ForeWord Review Book of the Year), and The Legacy of Deer Run (released in 2012). Cooper is also a contributing writer for Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home by Edie Melson. She is a wife, mom, Grammie to triplets, and a registered nurse. Website: the second Wednesday of every month

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