If you are serious about your writing, you’ve probably searched for the magic formula that will guarantee publication of your work. I hate to be the one to break this to you, but there is no magic formula.
Writing is hard. Writing well is hard work. Writing well enough to see your work published takes time, dedication, ruthless editing, and yes, a bit of luck.
Luck isn’t something you have much control over . . . but you do have control over time, dedication, and ruthless editing.
Millions of words have been written about finding and making time to write, so you’re probably working on that, and you’re already dedicated to your craft or you wouldn’t be reading Stephen King’s On Writing and searching blogs for ideas on how to make a living in this crazy business.
That leaves ruthless editing as your ticket to instantly improving your writing.
How does that work, exactly?
I’m glad you asked.
In a wonderful post about writing in a way that makes people feel, Guy Bergstrom writes:
You learn to write by editing, and you learn to edit by taking a red pen to what other people write. Where we need to switch it up is how we edit. Not line by line. Don’t worry about pretty sentences. Worry about pretty BONES. The bodywork of the car matters a helluva lot less than the engine that makes it go. Focus on the engine.”
We writers spend a great deal of time crafting a sentence so it says exactly what we want it to say. The tendency to overwrite is a common mistake, especially when we’re first starting out, but it’s something we can overcome with time and a lot of practice.
Ruthless editing, then, means going back and deleting all the fluff; it means breaking the story down and building it back up again; it means returning to writing basics. Need a few ideas on where to begin?
In Creative Writing with the Crimson League, Victoria Gefer writes:
Remember, the most basic rule of editing, on the most basic level, is always this:
Any word that doesn’t need to be in a sentence shouldn’t be.
Remember rule two of editing:
Never distort your writing into something that’s worse than using a common, go-to phrase. Don’t change “weak” style points on principle; change them when you can see a clear way to make your writing better by changing them: a way to be clearer, simpler, and less redundant.”
Once you’ve revised your work, it’s time to get some perspective on it. Remember this:
The #1 way to become a better writer is to edit someone else’s writing.
I edit other people’s work for a living, and I can honestly say that every piece I’ve worked on has been a learning experience in some way. Reading, as we all know, is a wonderful way to learn how other writers write, but I encourage you to edit another writer’s work; there’s nothing like it for learning about your own style and foibles.
One of the best articles I’ve read about peer editing is by Oliver Gray at LiteratureAndLibation.com:
Editing another writer’s work will improve your writing. It gives you a chance to read all kinds of stuff you might not see otherwise, but also gives you a chance to see what mistakes other writers are making. Editing gives you the chance to learn from other people’s lessons, dissect how a writer created an image or a theme or a tone.”
So there you have it in a nutshell: editing another writer’s writing will improve your own, because editing forces you to look at writing from a completely different point of view. Whether you join an online critique group like Scribophile or reach out to a fellow writer you met on WordPress, I encourage you to learn about writing in a different way by editing someone else’s writing.
As Oliver Gray wrote to me, “Man, editing and revisions is way harder than actually writing!” And he’s right! Writing is the fun part; editing and revising are what make you a better writer. Almost instantly!
Have you done any peer editing? Have you found your own writing improves after editing someone else’s work? What valuable insights have you gained from the process?
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