In September I had the pleasure of taking this class from Writers Online Classes, with returning instructor Don McNair. The class advertisement read:
Publishers and agents reject 99 percent of received manuscripts after simply glancing at their first chapters. This class shows why your own manuscript was rejected . . . and how to fix it!
Don McNair, a professional writer and editor for forty years, discovered the answers years ago while editing a manuscript on an airplane trip for a public relations client. Months of follow-up research showed him there were twenty-one problems that “fog up” a manuscript, diminishing its clarity and power. The big secret? Remove one or more words from those problem sentences. He named the solutions to these problems “The 21 Steps to Fog-Free Writing.”
The class lived up to its name. Don was friendly, personable and approachable. Best of all, every lesson included examples and worksheets. For every worksheet, he included an answer sheet, so participants could see what was wrong with the submission and how to correct it. He also included chapters of incorrectly edited materials along with the corrected material, which showed what had been changed. And Don was available to discuss the lessons and editing recommendations.
Exercises were not to be posted to the loop. Rather it was recommended that we complete each exercise, ‘mark it’ ourselves and then ask questions. There was a question or two for each lesson, but it was not an email intensive course.
It was one of the most worthwhile classes I’ve ever taken.
Don’s main point was that extraneous words ‘fog’ our writing. These words show up in a variety of ways. In lesson 1 we were asked to “consider this sentence: ‘She started walking toward the door.’ Do we mean she got one foot into the air and stopped? No, you say? Well, the author should have said this instead: “She walked toward the door.” Then he goes on to explain why the change is necessary and when it doesn’t apply.
Among the twenty one ways to eliminate the fog and tighten our writing, he suggests using fewer infinitives, writing in the active voice and eliminating double verbs.
Don never presses himself as an expert and doesn’t insist anyone write his way. His goal, as I understood it was to enlighten other writers in the many ways we can write tighter prose. I saved his lessons and worksheets, knowing I’d need to review many of his points in the future. But I also knew that implementing just a few of his points made my novels tighter and cleaner, which means they’re easier to read.
Don offers another course EDITOR-PROOF THAT MANUSCRIPT, which I haven’t taken yet. I will, down the road because I know the quality of his material. Information on his courses is available at http://www.mcnairedits.com/
If your prose can use additional tightening, I can’t recommend Don’s course highly enough. It was worth more than the cost of enrollment.