editing / self-editing

Problems with Flow and Awkward Phrasing: Examples

Sometimes real examples of writing issues are easier to understand than lengthy, complicated explanations. In this new series (see the list of “Real Examples of Various Writing Issues“) you’ll see various real-life writing problems and suggested solutions.

Examples of Issues with Flow and Awkward Phrasing:

In the following cases, the writer might want to consider some changes to make his writing flow better or to improve her awkward phrasing. Can you see what the problem is in each case? Do you agree with the editor’s remarks and suggested changes? If not, what solution would you suggest?

” … I question, “Is my meditating a blessing or a curse? … ”
–> It is good that you started out by talking about meditation, and then at the end circled back to it—but you only mentioned it once in the middle. I would suggest that you develop your theme by mentioning meditation at least a couple more times in the middle and give examples so that it flows through the chapter as a theme. If you don’t want to use the word “meditation” too much, you could use other synonyms like “contemplation” or “musings” or “pondering” or “ruminating.” These would be good words to use instead of just “I thought” as they are more precise, and they will remind the reader that these memories are coming to you during your meditation.

“Everything happens for a reason, and so perhaps out of confusion clarity will emerge.”
–>Avoid “perhaps” and similar expressions since you want to demonstrate hope to your readers. For example: “Everything happens for a reason, so I hold strongly [OR hang on tightly] to the hope that out of confusion clarity will emerge.”

“But as time went on, I started to question my tiredness, unhappiness and the mundane aspect of everyday living. It all blended into work on the job and trying to keep everyone happy at home.”
–> I found this a bit unclear. I wonder if you could actually blend the two sentences in order to show the blending? Something like: “But as time went on, the mundane everyday routines of work at my job and trying to maintain peace at home blended together into a haze of tiredness and unhappiness.”

“In blaming my family and society for how I felt, a sudden thought began dawning on me. I can’t be changing my family or the environment I was born into; the change I wanted to see in my life has to start with me.”
–> Try and stick with strong verb forms. For example: “Initially, I blamed my family and society for how I felt—but suddenly it dawned on me: I can’t change my family or the environment I was born into, but I can change myself. The change I long for must start with me.”

“After all, it’s just my own conclusion, which might differ from yours.”
–> This sounds like you’re still uncomfortable with your conclusion, and it has a kind of “apologetic” tone to it. Obviously, your conclusion is an important part of your story, and I think you should just let it stand on its own. Therefore, I highly recommend you simply delete this sentence. You don’t need to apologize just because someone might disagree with you!

“Every year and a half or so another baby arrived. Before long we had the makings of a hockey and ball team.
–> “… a hockey team and a ball team…” – or: “…a hockey or ball team…” The way it is written, it sounds like a “hockey and ball” team – a new sport!

“It wasn’t their fault. Similar to being born an old soul, it wasn’t my fault.”
–> Awkward phrasing. Suggestion: “It wasn’t their fault – just like being born an old soul wasn’t my fault.”

“We were not always kind. Today, as a mom of two sons, I would have done things differently.”
–> Awkward phrasing. Possibly: “If I’d known what I know today, as a mom of two sons, I would have done things differently.”

“…we pulled off the highway, to check out one of many salmon holes in the river, and one of the bears’ favourite. There were salmon in them there holes like I never saw before.”
–> This sentence has several difficulties! Perhaps: “We pulled off the highway to check one of the bears’ favourite salmon holes in the river. There were salmon, such as I had never seen before, in those holes.”

“I wanted to tell women that all men aren’t impossible.”
–> Or: “… that not all men are impossible.”

“In this moment of warning, will you adjust your speed to let everything that is entangling your life, pass?”
–> This is a bit awkward. Maybe: “…will you adjust your speed to let pass everything that is entangling your life?”

“Sarah took the vacated seat and watched the numbers slowly change with Sylvia.
–> Awkward. Perhaps: “Sarah took the vacated seat next to Sylvia, and they watched the numbers slowly change.”

“A map of the town they lived in, and more precisely, a map of their street.”
–> Or: “It was a map of the town they lived in, and more precisely, a map of their street.”

“Her laugh helped to calm her pounding heart and seemed to put the woman at ease, who then checked a name on an envelope she held.”
–> Awkward phrasing. Possibly: “Her laugh helped to calm her own pounding heart and seemed also to put at ease the other woman, who was now checking a name on an envelope she held.”

“There was a city pool (for a fee), but it didn’t have a shallow end, and it was hard to hold onto the edges and impossible to find a dry spot to sit on in a sea of mud.”
–> Are you talking here about the pool or the pond in the previous sentence? By the pattern of the sentence, you’d be talking about the pool, but does a pool have a sea of mud? I’m puzzled!

“Advertisements are stereotyped to seem better than what they come out to be.”
–> Do you mean: “… stereotyped to make the product or service seem better than what it actually is”?

“Throughout life he was compared to as a child to his sister.”
–> Do you mean: “Throughout his childhood, he had been compared to his sister, and he felt it was still happening as an adult”?  Or do you mean something else? The sentence is unclear.

“Who sat closest to the register got most of the heat, but at the opposite corner of the table, whose back faces the cookstove benefits from a hot back.
–> Awkward. Perhaps: “Whoever sits closest to the register gets most of the furnace’s heat, but at the opposite corner of the table, the cookstove provides the person nearest it with a warm back.”

“My heart was thumping when I reached the restaurant for my date. It was a mixed mixture of excitement and a bit of worry.”
–> You could possibly combine these two sentences to create a better flow: “My heart was thumping with a mixture of excitement and a bit of worry when I reached the restaurant for my date.”

Your turn!

Did reading the above examples help you understand the need to self-edit carefully, to ask a beta-reader to check your writing, and to think carefully whether what you’ve written flows well and is clearly phrased? What did you learn from these examples?

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