How to (Almost) Instantly Improve Your Writing

Improve Your WritingIf 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.

The #1 way to become a better writer is to edit someone else’s writing. #editingtip Click To Tweet

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?

Happy Writing,

Candace

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A Fantasy Novelist’s Approach to Editing

approach to editingI am impressed with any writer who manages to blog and write every day! Fantasy writer Victoria Grefer, author of The Crimson League, does just that, and you can read her daily blog about creative writing and marketing fiction at www.crimsonleague.com. Her blogs are full of wonderful information any writer can use, and she graciously accepted my invitation to share tips about her editing process with you. Victoria will soon release a writer’s handbook titled Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction, which addresses aspects of not only mechanics and style, but the emotional barriers that can impede aspiring writers (and even experienced ones) from making progress with their work.

If you’ve ever been flummoxed by editing your own work (and who hasn’t?), I know you’ll enjoy reading Victoria’s insights. Take it away, Victoria!

Are you flummoxed by editing your own work? #writetip #amediting Click To Tweet

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I’m a fantasy writer, and like many writers of all genres of fiction, a large portion of my editing process comes from Stephen King and his handbook On Writing, which I would recommend to any writer who’s not offended by a frequent four-letter word (because King does use them).

At King’s suggestion, I begin any edit with a read-through of my first draft, during which I inhibit myself from making changes (as much as possible). Rather, I jot down quick notes about my reactions to the text. I note pacing issues. I note when a passage or paragraph can most likely be cut. I note when something feels unclear and raises questions. I note when dialogue feels stilted or doesn’t fit the character who’s speaking. I note inconsistencies: I’ve found tons of them, ranging from a character’s eyes changing color to someone mentioning a fact he has no way of knowing at that point in time.

Now, I’m a firm believer that there is no such thing as a definite “writing process,” in that every author does things differently, and no single path will lead all to success. That also applies to editing. My personal approach to editing is to start with those comments I wrote during the read-through.

Editing is a long, heart-wrenching process, and especially so for a perfectionist like me. I make it easier by writing my comments using the “Review” function in Microsoft Word, so that when I edit, I can delete each comment as I’ve addressed the issue it references. This helps me feel a sense of accomplishment as I make slow, plodding progress through the document. There’s something rewarding about pressing that “X” on each comment, one by one. I also make sure to write some positive comments during my read-through, when I’m pleased with some aspect of the scene I’m reading. This self-affirmation keeps my confidence up as I confront the shortcomings of my work, a number of which don’t involve fun or simple fixes.

I write as a pantser—meaning without an outline, or “by the seat of my pants”—so while I do end up cutting a lot of information, I also have to add things. I generally don’t know before I write my novel’s end how things are going to end, which leaves me with a need to prepare my reader for the ending I hadn’t anticipated. This means adding material. At the least, I have to add snippets of information to already existing scenes; often I create new scenes entirely.

Because of my personal style, I’ve never agreed with those who say you should never add much material while you edit. Sure, cutting matters. Even I end up with a smaller word count than I started with after a good edit. Every first draft has its share of fluff that needs to go, but depending on your style and your personal process, adding a fair amount of material might be as necessary as making deletions. I don’t like to make blanket statements about the “evils” of adding words.

One blanket statement I can make is this: one of the best editing tips I can give you is to stop and ask yourself, when you reach a problem paragraph that you just can’t get right, whether you can cut it. Often I’ll spend half an hour working and reworking a paragraph because it doesn’t sound the way it should or do what I need it to do. Then, in exasperation, I’ll consider whether the reason I can’t get things in order is that the paragraph doesn’t need to be there. Often, that’s the case. Most, if not all, of the paragraph can go without causing me trouble, and if there’s a snippet of information that I do find I need, I can usually insert it somewhere else in the scene or connect it to the preceding or subsequent paragraph.

Sorry to digress there, but that point is important. Now, to get back to my process: once I get through all my comments from the read-through, I celebrate. Then I read through again but stop to edit as I go. I do this multiple times, reshaping scenes with each pass. First I focus on content edits, giving style a bit of a backseat. I make sure pacing works, and characterization, and that my plot holds up. Then I do one quick pass for style and typos before sending my work off to beta readers. Once I get their comments, I make more changes and more cuts based upon their feedback. I do more content edits, then style edits. I focus on passive voice, using adverbs too much, using “it” without an antecedent. I hone in on phrases I know I overuse and either cut or change them in every instance that I can.

So, that’s my editing process. I’m curious about how other people go about it. Do you do things in a similar way, or quite differently? Non-fiction writers, do you edit in a different way? Do you think that whether you’re editing fiction or non-fiction makes a difference? Please feel free to comment!

Victoria Grefer is from New Orleans, Louisiana. A lifelong student and avid reader, she has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and English and a master’s degree in Spanish literature from the University of Alabama. She has taught Spanish and tutored, and now is establishing herself as a freelance translator and perhaps editor as well. She is the author of the Herezoth trilogy, sword and sorcery fantasy beginning with The Crimson League and ending May 31, 2013 with The King’s Sons. She blogs daily about creative writing and marketing fiction at www.crimsonleague.com

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If you aren’t already following Victoria’s blog, I urge you to hurry over and check it out, which is something I do every day. Thanks for visiting both of us today, and if you enjoyed this article, please consider subscribing so you’ll never miss a post! It’s easy: Just enter your email address on the right side of this page. And please know that I’ll never sell, share, or rent your contact information—that’s a promise!

And if you want more great writing and publishing information, check out my Facebook page, where I share all kinds of interesting articles and links.

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