After several decades of observing and writing about my fellow inhabitants of Planet Earth, I can’t recall ever thinking that anyone didn’t have a story to tell. Whether it is the true account of your life’s journey, your perspectives on the world or a fictional tale, everyone has something unique that could be captured through the written word.
Why then, do so few write? There are many reasons; from the profoundly sad belief that they have nothing to offer to the absurdly arrogant notion that their story is so special that someone else should be writing it, excuses abound. Two things, however, stand out as a plague impacting most would-be writers:
- they don’t recognize the importance of deliberate and protracted empathetic thought.
- they haven’t incorporated the respect for and the process of editing.
Time Away From the Computer: The Benefits of Thinking
When J.K Rowling came up with the idea for the Harry Potter series, she was on a train without pen and paper. She has often said that this was a blessing, because she spent the time thinking through the story.
Thought is a far more efficient method of testing plot lines and character attributes than writing them down. Making snap decisions about a character’s background, without walking in that character’s shoes along the paths which led to the story at hand, leaves the writer with less information about the story.
While the fingers are poised above the keyboard or curled around a pen, questions that arise about the things necessary to carry out a given plot are often brushed to the back of the mind. However, they can be explored in the imagination to their logical conclusion. This exploration is the bedrock of creative writing.
It also has its place in nonfiction. Thinking about a story can uncover underlying assumptions that need clarification and other issues which will ultimately lead to a more interesting, more informative piece. So, take a walk. The imagination is freer to wonder around when the body is as well.
Editing: the Heart of Good Writing
Shoddy editing is rampant nowadays. Beyond poor spelling and grammar, haphazardly organized, redundant and one-dimensional prose passes as well-written. In our instant-gratification-oriented culture, people expect excellent writing to instantaneously flow from their fingertips. When it doesn’t, which is typical even for the best writers, frustration paralyzes them.
Editing, unfortunately, is not merely going over a piece three or four times. The process, for most of us, is painstaking and ubiquitous. It surprises me what I will discover in a piece even after I have reread it dozens of times. Embrace this reality and join the club. Passing this job off to an editor in the early stages of writing is giving control of your story to someone who doesn’t have the benefit of your best efforts. It can also lead to expense and heartache.
Tips for Becoming a Better Editor
The type of editing which captures the best of your writing and incorporates the most of your thinking is precision editing. There is a magic that happens when pen hits paper or fingers dance on the keyboard, but it is the pre thinking and the security of knowing that you will deliberately and repeatedly pick through a piece for a standard list of issues that makes the magic possible.
The process starts with double-checking spelling and grammar. Relying on Spell Check is not sufficient and will lead to glaring errors. Here are five other things to keep in mind:
- Vary the structure of your sentences.
- Use sentence structure to build or dissipate tension.
- Develop a personal sense of the balance between dialog (quotes in nonfiction) and narrative.
- Reread to verify the sequence in which information is presented.
- Double-check for the accuracy of your information in fiction as well as nonfiction.
Earlier versions of this article by Donna W. Hill were published in 2010 by EzineArticles.com, Goarticles.com and American Chronicle. It also appeared in Slate & Style, the quarterly journal of the Writers’ Division of the National Federation of the Blind in 2013.