Six Steps to Stronger Writing: Refining the Process between Creativity and Perfecting your Piece

Are your habits helping you or hurting you? Here's a quick quiz. True or false:

  1. It's good to stop after you write a few pages or a chapter and begin to revise while your thought process is fresh before moving on.

  2. Immediately after you finish writing for the day is the very best time to go back over your entire piece to correct punctuation and refine it.

  3. A good editor/writer can perform the professional edit on their own material.

(Look at the bottom of the page for the answers to the quiz)

Writing is like any other skill. The more we exercise the gift, the better we usually become. That is if we practice good habits. But wrong habits can actually inhibit and bog down our writing. Consider the following:

One of the best ways to stifle creativity is to start the editing/revising process immediately. When you are on a creative roll...let it roll. Get your idea out on paper and let the ideas flow. Don't try to get it perfect and rework your stuff at this point. Just get it down on paper. That's half the battle.

After you have your story, chapter or sequence completed, walk away and let it rest. Resist the urge to rework it further yet. It's best to let your material sit for 24-48 hours if possible. Writing that felt profound in the moment, can look distinctly different after you've had a chance to clear your head and take a deep breath. Not only can you recognize your errors easier, but also areas that either have poor flow, are unclear, or lack the spark of the rest of the piece, will usually stand out when you read it with fresh perspective.

Every writer should perform a self-edit of their material, but as a rule, anything that will be submitted for publication needs a professional edit...and that shouldn't be you--even if you are a professional editor.

I never allow myself to be the final editor. Why? I'm too close to the material to catch all my own errors. (Not to mention, I'm a writer that can edit, rather than an editor that can write. There is a difference.) So even if you are an editor by profession, I highly recommend getting another set of eyes on your material. Familiarity with a piece always makes it tough...let me even say impossible...to catch all the errors.

Here are six important keys to remember whether you are writing an essay, article, novella or full-length book:

The Self-Edit: Where to begin

  1. Strong verbs - after you've allowed the piece to sit for 24 hours, reread scrutinizing your verb choices. Strong, visual verbs can enhance your writing quicker than almost any other revision. And while you're at it, be on the lookout for those pesky -ly words. Most are attached to a verb, but are rarely necessary. Consider replacing the -ly modifier and weak verb with a strong verb. You'll be glad you did. (And so will your reader.)

  2. Avoid passive voice sentences - Sentences that begin with or "there are", "there is" or "it is", can immediately reduce the strength of your writing. Remember to stay in the active voice.

  3. Avoid the -ing verbal. Run a spell check with -ing to make these words pop out. This is an easy re-write and definitely will add strength to your writing. We speak with -ing verbals, but should avoid writing with them.

  4. Consistent verb tense. This can be tricky for even the most advanced writer, but it's important to recognize what verb tense you want to write in and then make sure that you are consistent throughout the writing. (Easier said than done for most of us.)

  5. Flow. Read your work with flow and clarity in mind. Too often important transitions are missed which can tie one thought to the next. (Note: inserting an asterisk does not a transition make. It is simply lazy writing. While the asterisk method can be appropriate now and then...keep it to now and then. Learn to write fluid transitions. Also, read your piece for good flow. Do you have good sequence order? Have you included all the steps or details to allow the reader to follow your thought process? Can they follow your train of thought easily?

The Proof:

  1. Grammatical proof. After you have finished your revision, let your piece sit again. Yes, another 24-48 hours if you have the time before your deadline. Then, once your head has cleared, go back over for a final proof. This is not a time to revise further, but for grammatical punctuation clean-up.

Final:

  1. Send it to a real editor. Again, I highly recommend that you get another set of eyes on your writing before you submit it. Let someone else (a professional) give some insight and see if they can understand your thought process. Did it move them? Did it confuse them? Were there errors

  2. Leave it alone. Too many revisions can work the life out of writing. Sometimes when we revise and rework to attain "perfection", we lose the spark of life that makes the story move the reader. The rule of thumb is usually three revisions. Then leave it alone. There are times this rule may not apply-but hold it as a standard and know when to stop.

Last, if you have sent your work to a professional editor,DO NOT continue to revise and rework it after the edit has been finalized. A few changes here and there, can be a few errors here and there. It can also add confusion to the flow, not to mention, you can begin to unravel the professional level of the finished product

I've had this happen as author's sent me the "final" manuscript, without informing me that they had continued to make revisions after the edit. The result almost always was writing with errors and confusion because last minute changes were inserted after the editing process was completed and unfortunately after the book was printed. Then the errors are set in stone.

Remember practicing good writing habits will allow your gift to continue to grow. Observing the changes an editor makes to revise your writing, is also a great learning opportunity. Take the time to go back over their changes and realize why they were made.

Writing is a gift and a skill. Allow others to speak into to your work without wearing your emotions on your sleeve and glean from their thoughts. These are habits that will boost your writing to a new level as you consistently put them to work.

QUIZ: The answer to each of the questions above

is false.