Editing your novel-5: Test your editing skills

From Rick:

Last time I said I would try to come up with a little test of your editing skills. The sample below is from an upcoming novel called Searching For Sound by Dave Schulz, a friend I have been helping in order to make his novel ready to publish. It’s set to release sometime in February.

This passage is from the beginning of chapter one. For the purposes of this test I deliberately corrupted it. The errors in it do not exist in the final manuscript.

Those among you who feel that your editing skills are sufficient for self-editing your work should go through this (about 1500 words) and make corrections.

Next week I’ll present the “corrected” version along with some comments as to which corrections are optional or open to interpretation. Not everything I changed is necessarily wrong, so not every editor will agree.

If you’re serious about testing your editing skills, do not rush through this, and I recommend going over it at least twice.

I tried to include as many different types of errors as the passage would permit, such as missing or incorrect punctuation, grammatical errors, missing or wrong words. It is by no means close to being a comprehensive test, but there are several tricky things in this to challenge editors who believe they are good.

If you are able to spot and fix most of these mistakes, then this is a reasonable indicator that you may possess sufficient skills for successfully editing your own work.

As I’ve tried to point out in this series, editing requires more than a handful of grammar and punctuation skills. You’ll find out next week how good you are.


Alex Semple stood on the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 9th street in downtown Cleveland on this over cast October morning of 2002 and watched the people shuffle through the cold rain with little conversation eager to get to their destinations. In these pinched economic times, earning a dollar was more important than small talk. Workers fought to keep their jobs and struggled to get ahead in the especially tough economy in Northern Ohio.

He looked up at the throng of towering corporate buildings jutting through the low hanging clouds. The drizzling rain fell from his black fedora and onto his jet black, shoulder length hair which pushed out from the soaking brim of his hat in all directions. Banks, corporate headquarters, and the beckoning of the Free Enterprise System were now pushing through the clouds, in his brain.

Overwhelming thoughts of the corporate infrastructure and inclement weather seemed miniscule compared to his mental distress. Not knowing what to do after graduating from high school a few months earlier, he found himself flung into an unwelcoming world out of his control. The impending stress gave him a cramp in his stomach that he tried desperately to rub away.

The drizzle turned to a steady, gentle rain.

“Nice weather, eh?” A man said behind him.

Alex turned to the businessman. “Seriously, dude. That’s lame. Ya got your fine looking suit, and life seems so… Man this all sucks.” He grabbed the gold chains that hung around his neck and pulled up the collar of his coat.

“Sorry. I was just trying to make conversation.”

Yeah, well, it’s like… It’s kinda—”

“What’s the matter son?”

“Well… I’m a student at Erie State, ya know. And I can’t stand it. It totally sucks! All the crap. I can’t see myself doin’ some stupid 9 to 5 job and—”

“Then quit.” The man turned to cross the intersection.

“What’d ya mean quit? I can’t quit. I never quit nothin’ man.”

The man stopped in the middle of the street, shot Alex a piercing glance over his shoulder and raised his voice over the traffic sounds. “If you can’t quit then you have to move on. Search for it.”

“Search?… Search for what?”

“Whatever you’re looking for.” The man continued across the street and disappeared into the crowd.

Alex stood motionless, pondering those words.

“Search for what I’m looking for?” he mumbled. “What am I looking for? What does that even mean?… Man I can’t think about this right now. I gotta get outta this weather. Maybe a Latte at Mickeys will help clear my brain.”

Close to the college, Mickeys offered a great environment conducive for study and conversation. Its location and ambience made it a favorite of both students and those who worked at nearby businesses.

Outside the entrance of Mickey’s, Alex shook the wetness from his fedora and his flowing hair and stepped inside. Some of the patrons eyed the new arrival.

After ordering up his usual Latte, he grabbed a table in the corner, away from the noise of the other customers. He needed one of those quick moments to go over his notes before his Economics class. He struggled with the material and was doing far worse in English and history.

“Okay, I can do this.” He mumbled. “I ain’t gonna quit. I’ve got to push… push harder… throw more time at it. Yeah I can do it. I can do this.”

His notes loomed before him. The confusing words on the pages provided no direction or answers. Amid looking over his notes and a silly supply and demand curve, a song from earlier that year, by one of the more popular female vocalists, began to play from the over head speaker. He couldn’t remember her name. He wasn’t very good with names and he didn’t care for the song anyway.

“Nice tune, eh?”

Alex looked over at the next table. The man from the street was sitting there.

“Dude you followin me or something?”

“No, this is my usual morning stop for coffee, before I start my boring 9 to 5 job in my fine suit,” he smiled and winked.

Alex pointed at his assorted business books laying open on the table. “I, uh… I mean… This is my 1st year at Erie State and I feel like I’m stuck here studying this crap. I can’t stand it.”

“Oh, I see. Maybe you should give it a chance, take some time with it. You might find—”

“Nah, man. This ain’t working. It’s not what I want. It’s what my Dad wants.”

“Ah, so that’s it. It’s not about what you want, but what your father wants for you?”

Alex squirmed in his seat and sipped the last dregs of his Latte, looking for an excuse to leave. Another song started playing over head. He pointed up at the speaker while starring at the bottom of his cup and mumbled. “That sound is as empty as this cup.”

“What’s that? You sure do talk to yourself a lot for someone your age.”

Alex looked shyly back at him and grabbed his coat from the back of the chair.

The man slid his chair over to Alex’s table. “Hey, wait.”

Alex froze.

“Ok, I know I am making you feel uncomfortable. I don’t mean to do that. But somethings bothering you.”

Alex stared at him.

“Let’s start this over. Okay? My name’s Dave. Dave Baines.” The man extended his hand across the table.

Alex hesitated before he shook it. “All right then Mister Baines. I’m Alex… Alex Semple.”

“Yes, I know who you are. But anyway, I heard your comment about the song. What’s that about? I know you don’t like business, nine to five jobs, and businessmen, like me; and maybe you don’t like your Dad; but now you’re saying you don’t like music. Don’t you like anything.”

“I, uh… I… uh… I dunno.”

“Yes, you do know.”

“Well, its like this… I’ve never gotten along with people. I’m not very good with making friends. And girls… Ha. Forget about that. But listen to this crap they’re playing. Its lame, ya know? Nothing there. But what else is new? Where ever I go it’s all the same ole crap, bums me out. Maybe I was born in the wrong century or something.”

“Hold up there a minute. Born in the wrong century?”

“Yeah, it’s like… I miss the sixties. Everything popular now is… showy, theatrical, or some other gimmicky crap.”

“Ah, I see. So, do you play an instrument?”

“Yeah, guitar. But I didn’t learn it to play this nonsense. I spend way too much time practicing, something that will probably go nowhere, which explains why my Econ 101 ain’t going nowhere either. I can’t keep my mind on anything except going home to my basement and playing my guitar. Most of the time I don’t stop until my fingers start to bleed.”

Dave glanced at his watch. “I have to leave for a meeting, but I would like to tell you one last thing: Search for what you are looking for. No matter what.”

“No matter what?”

“Yes, no matter what people say, do or think. Follow your passion. Dave stood. Goodbye for now Alex.”

“For now? Will I see you again?”

“Oh, I expect so.” Dave gave him a wink and a smile before he turned and made his way to the exit leaving Alex sitting in bewilderment.

“That was weird.” He mumbled. “But I better get going too. I don’t wanna be late for my stupid econ class.”

He packed up his books and left Mickey’s. The rain had stopped and the sun peaked through the clouds. He weaved through the throng of people and whispered the lyrics of The Shield, an old Deep Purple song he liked. The words eluded to looking for a sweet and better life.

I’m not quite sure what a better life looks anyway. But I can’t worry about that now. Being late for another class will only make my bad grades worse, Alex thought

He barely made it to class in time. The professor was passing out papers to each student. Alex took the stapled papers and read the top portion of the first page, Economics 101—Midterm Exam.

“Ah, man, I messed up,” he mumbled. “How could I have missed this? I was at every class. Yeah, I may not have always been with it mentally, but I was here. How’d I not know about this?”

A short, preppy red headed girl in the next desk threw an annoyed glance in his direction.

“Hey, did you know about this?” He asked her.

“Well, yes. He’s been talking about this for quite a few weeks now. You really didn’t know?”

“Nah, man, I didn’t. How’d this happen? Was there a secret handshake, pass code, special decoder ring needed, or something?”

“Look here. You were completely zoned out in every class. I’ve seen you off somewhere in la la land. It’s scary. And truthfully, you’re kinda freaking me out right now.” She quickly collected her belongings and moved to a seat in the back row.

“Ok folks. This is an exam, so there is to be no talking.” The professor said. He cast a piercing glance in Alex’s direction.

“Wow, man, that was weird… and rude too,” Alex mumbled.


“Sorry.” Alex cowered into his exam.

“And take off that stupid hat.”

“Geez, what is this, beat-up Alex day or something?”

“Semple! What part of no talking are you having a problem with?”

“Ok, ok.”



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