The difference between an amateur and a professional writer is editing. The amateur has no idea what editing is or does. The pro knows no matter how bad the first draft, it can be made into something worthwhile (anything can be polished if enough care is given – don’t believe the myths).
We all instinctively know a good piece of writing when we read it (or at the very least, we know a bad piece). Let that be your guide if you’re new to this. Trust your gut.
Also, it’s far easier to edit than to write. But don’t get me wrong, it’s very much a relative thing – the better we get at writing, the easier it is to edit.
Do you edit as you write? I do. It goes against everything we’ve been told. But I can tell you one thing, when you’re starting out, it’s a mistake. It took me far longer to learn how to write than it would otherwise have done.
Here’s how to write when you’re new.
1. Think of the big idea first (search BIG IDEA in the group search box if you’re not sure what that means).
2. Pour your heart out on paper. Just get it all down. One thing after another. Forget the flow or order. Just do it.
3. Leave it for a day (you must remove all thought of it from your head, so get on and do something else – start another article for example).
4. The next day, read it through aloud from beginning to end (you must do this – ALOUD). This is YOU you’re reading. There’s a huge likelihood you’ll hate it. That’s a GOOD thing. All artists hate their work until it’s done (sometimes, just sometimes, we write something the first time and we adore it – that’s part of the icing on the cake that makes this worthwhile).
5. Now rip your article to pieces. Remove EVERY superfluous word. Remove ALL adjectives and adverbs.
6. Read what’s left. Is it clearer? If it’s not clear, why? To know it’s not clear means you know how to make it clear. Think about your sentence order. Does it follow the ACTIVE voice pattern: Object verb subject? “Everyone wants to be a writer”.
7. Replace all long words with the shortest alternatives you can find (whilst still keeping the meaning).
8. Try adding some of the adjectives or adverbs back in. How does it sound now? (often it will start sounding bad again).
9. Leave for another day (stop yourself trying to polish too early).
10. Repeat all the above.
PS. Never ever ever be precious about your writing. The more you write, the better you become. Whatever you love today will be replaced by something better tomorrow.
PPS. Very occasionally, you will come up with something truly amazing. Write them in your daily journal and give them a star so you can revisit them in the future and gauge how things have changed.
PPPS. Here’s a slogan I came up with this week in light of the dire straits the UK is in due to mismanagement of our country: “We either care (about people) or we don’t care at all”. To me, that’s a gem. Right now, I’m treasuring it. Let’s see how I feel in another year (I hope it’s the same).
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