“You’ve Gotta Have It” – Editing Exercise

For those of you who don’t know, I intend to go into publishing in the future! That means that I’m dedicated to editing. It’s my favorite part of the writing process, and in all honesty, I’m rather ruthless with it!

Because editing is something I enjoy so much, I’ll now start posting about my editing process– the things I change from draft to draft! I decided to start today with this, an exercise from my current class, ENGL 444: Editing and Publishing.

My professor provided us with a copy of a story that was published in last year’s edition of The Kiosk, the on-campus literary magazine. I’m familiar with The Kiosk, seeing as I was the head of the fiction board last year, and so I remember this story well. The professor asked us to take the first paragraph of this person’s story and edit it aggressively how we’d like.

Re-emphasizing: this is not my own writing; I’m not trying to claim it as mine. Just my own editing!


Yes indeed, this is the first paragraph of this story. A huge wall of text with a lot of unnecessary information. The characters and conflict later on are good, but the writing itself is puffy, puffy, puffy.


1. I start with simply trimming some extraneous words. The imagery is a good opener, but if you can still get the idea across with less words, do that instead.

2. I removed this sentence in its entirety. It’s good, sure– a lot of what I cut, even in my own writing, is good. And that’s hard. But it strengthens the paragraph as a whole. In this case, it’s also somewhat stereotypical imagery, so it’s not even groundbreaking turn-of-phrase, so it can go.

3. This is definitely a cosmetic change (perhaps only to my taste, not someone else’s.) Since the first sentence is very short, it flows better (to me, at least) to follow it up with a longer sentence instead of another choppy one.

4. Grammar.

5. Armrest is one word, not two.

6. Grammatically, this need to be an adjective, not a noun.

7. The Sullivans aren’t possessing something, so there is no need for that possessive apostrophe.

8. Unnecessary.

9. Here, we broach territory in which many superfluous details about the grandmother are provided. We don’t need to know about her jogging or fitness habits. I omit those phrases entirely, but keep the Christmas sweater and her height. (I add the word “swallowed” even though I usually try not to add new words to another writer’s piece, but it just helps in this case.)

10. It’s multiple theatre curtains, not one, so “a” is grammatically incorrect.

11. Show us, don’t tell us. The rest of the paragraph has already showed the grandmother’s pride. We don’t need this here.


And the final piece! I also cut it into two paragraphs in a logical spot, because it’s far easier on the reader’s eye.

And there you have it! A much cleaner and more concise piece, or a travesty made of another author’s writing? Tell me how you would have fixed this paragraph!


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