Last time I talked about how to start writing. This time we’re going to take things a step further and move into editing and critiquing your work.
5. Edit, edit, edit
While every writer needs to be creative, they also need to know how to edit themselves. Many a publication has risen or fallen on how it’s been presented.
Your concept may be great, but the execution has to be good: unless the style, language and grammar are sound and the structure organised, the end result won’t look good, make a whole lot of sense, or make people want to read it.
This is the stage where you take off your artistic hat and put on your analytical one. Here, it’s relevant to write first, then edit later, as it’s too complicated to try and do both at the same time. You can actually inhibit the process of writing effectively if you try to edit as you go along.
Let the words flow first
So let the words flow first, then pull them into shape afterwards. Above all, give yourself a proper break between writing and editing – make sure you go back in with a fresh mind.
We’re talking days at the bare minimum, preferably weeks – even longer, if you can spare the time. This helps you not only to detach from the process of writing and prepare mentally to analyse your work, but also puts you in a much better frame of mind to go back in and resolve any niggling issues that you might be experiencing with your text.
6. Structure it
One thing I’m asked as an editor is how to deal with structure. If you’re writing a piece, whether factual or creative, a cogent narrative is key. I like the idea of ‘the silver thread’, which was introduced to me at an Arvon writing course, and always bear it in mind when I sit down to write a piece.
Have a clear idea
This is about the journey through the text: having a clear idea of where you’re headed, right from the beginning, through the middle to the end.
It might seem incredibly obvious, but problems with structure can manifest themselves in unexpected ways when that trajectory isn’t in place.
Making some preparatory notes and being sure of where you’re going helps you to avoid repeating yourself, veering off-topic and having to eliminate irrelevance.
Start with the macro: look at the big picture for paragraphing and overall structure; then move into the micro, reading word-for-word for language, style and content.
Close analysis also helps you to focus in on consistency: for example, you don’t want to find that your leading character, who was born and raised in Baltimore, is a Bronx teenager in flashback several chapters later; or that the Mr Smith you refer to on p. 1 of your feature article has become Mrs Smythe on p. 4!
7. Critique me
So now it’s time to steel yourself, gird your literary loins and take your writing out into the world.
I have to confess that even as an experienced word wrangler, when I’ve done creative writing courses and read my own work out loud to a group for the first time, it has been nerve-wracking!
While for many of us writing is a private passion – and that’s totally ok, it’s not essential to expose our thoughts to the world if we really don’t want to – at some point if we are serious about progressing our work, we will need to open it up to critique.
Find constructive comment
How to do this? I’d suggest joining a local writing group, or maybe finding a closed group online. They are usually small and informal, and everyone is in the same boat, wanting to share their work and take it forward.
The important thing is to find a collective that feels safe and encouraging, where comment is constructive (a sense of fun doesn’t go amiss either).
When you begin to put your work out there, try not to confuse critique with criticism – it’s not the same. No one is telling you your writing is bad, they’re just being helpful and making suggestions as to how you can craft it.
You may need to toughen up a bit for this stage (sensitive souls will relate to this!). Having said that, no one needs something as delicate as their inner process exposed to genuine negativity; if this does happen, just stay calm. If you feel it’s necessary, explain why you think the critic is incorrect, and leave it at that.
Don’t get emotional, and don’t be drawn into any longwinded exchanges; it’ll only sap your energy and upset you. Your writing is what it is, and you have as much of a right to be heard as anyone else.
Critique strengthens focus
Creativity at its best is a collaborative thing, and it takes courage to show your work, so everyone should make nice.
Another way you can get feedback on your writing is to seek a beta read. They can be unpaid, and done by friends or contacts who are knowledgeable in the field you’re writing about, or fellow writers. It’s good to get feedback from several individuals, so think about approaching three or four people. Moreover, think about the kind of feedback you need on your writing, and put together a list of specific questions for your readers.
If you aren’t paying your readers, it’s a nice gesture to offer something by way of a thank you (perhaps a small gift, or reciprocal trade of your time), so have a think about that too and how you could give something back in return.
If you’re serious about publishing and want professional feedback on your work, you can approach an editor to provide manuscript critique for you. They can read your text, comment on what might need to be done to pull it into shape, then return it to you for further thought and revision. The process of developing a manuscript can be intensive, but it will hone your work in a positive way. It draws out your strengths, identifies any areas to be addressed, and makes your writing the very best it can be.
Critique as an exercise should help, not hinder. Taken positively, it can strengthen your focus and ability as a writer, as well as reinforce your sense of what you’re aiming to achieve.
8. Join the club
Writing is universal: people love to write, and they love reading it. The internet has been an absolute gift to writers because everyone now has easy access to so many online resources and communities to talk about it, get information and tutoring, share ideas, find inspiration and read others’ work.
When you’re ready – and especially if you are a newbie – seek out some online literary or writing communities you like and get interacting. Chat with others about your passion for the written word, whatever genre. Seek out blogs and comment, and encourage people to comment on yours. Stay abreast of industry topics. Consider taking a writing course, such as the excellent ones provided by Arvon and Guardian Masterclasses.
Above all, don’t be afraid to ask questions, it’s how we all learn: experienced creatives will be flattered that you’re seeking their expert knowledge.
So, just pick up that pen or put hand to keyboard, and make a start.
Write that first word, and keep going. It could be the best decision you’ve ever made.
I’m an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP, and work with authors to achieve clear, engaging writing.
For more information about me and my work, visit lisacordaro.com