Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Writer's Wednesday

I've been reading and offering suggestions for a number of writers this week. Their work varies from essays and short stories to memoirs and novels.

Regardless of their writing styles or goals they all have one problem in common: how to approach editing. Everyone expresses the same frustration with the overwhelming scope of an edit and the difficulty of knowing where to begin. I don't know why, but new writers always seem to feel they are supposed to solve all their manuscript problems in one massive rewrite.

That's just not how the process works. Editing happens in stages -- which explains why we go through so many rewrites on our way to creating a manuscript worthy of publishing.

Begin with the big items first:

  • Know your audience. Are you writing for a magazine or newspaper? Are you creating a book for a specific age or interest group? Every type of publishing has guidelines about format, word length, etc. Do your homework and have the criteria in mind before you begin to edit. You'll avoid wasted effort.

  • Structure your work appropriately whether it's nonfiction or fiction -- Is it logical? Can the reader follow your reasoning in an essay or the action of your plot without becoming confused or lost?

  • Are the characters distinct and multi-dimensional with clearly defined goals? Do their actions and motives arise out of who they are or are they dancing like puppets on a string at the whim of the author? Are their choices believable?

  • Find your voice. Identify your distinct style of expression as essayist, narrator or fictional character.

It is very likely that you will need to do a separate rewrite for each of these points to allow you to focus on each element. When you are satisfied with the results, it's time to look at some of the other essentials of good writing.

I'll explore those next time.

Meanwhile, remember that the object of critiquing your work is to create the best piece of writing possible. Your goal is to make your writing accessible to your readers.

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