One of the first important lessons a writer learns is that writing is a process, a series of steps that take an idea from concept to completed work. This is true whether the work is an article, a poem, a report, a short story or a book. Understanding this process -- and the role a writer plays in it -- is crucial to their success.
One of the most important steps in this process is learning to look at one's own work objectively. To focus on the intended message and ensure that it is delivered properly. While that may seem obvious enough, as the work progresses, it can become blurred. As the old song goes, "I have so much to say; but the words get in my way." To clarify that 'blurring' effect, it is essential to be able to edit your own work. But how does a writer edit their own work? While the process may vary depending on the writer, there are six steps that are integral to editing.
1) COMPLETE THE DRAFT
Novice writers should not attempt to edit as they write. Even experienced writers, who learn to smoothed over the copy as they go, know this is not editing and must wait for that separate step later on. The most important point of a first draft is to simply get the idea on paper, in whatever fashion that's comfortable for the writer. An outline is helpful and can serve as a rough draft for smaller projects. But if that format seems too limiting, just write out the first draft, understanding it is only the first go-around.
2) WALK AWAY
Even if it's only for a long enough period of time to get a glass of water. With longer projects, try to lengthen the time to a few days or weeks. This step allows the writer to gain perspective by "stepping back". Mostly, it allows the writer time for the subject to settle in their mind, plus it gives them time to mentally shift gears from writer to editor.
3) ASSESS OBJECTIVELY
While reading over the copy, the writer must learn to view it as a reader. One should be neither overly critical, nor overly attached to certain pet phrases or side remarks, but simply read it as if reading it for the first time. When done earnestly, this will make any errors, flaws or awkward points more apparent.
4) BE BRUTAL
This is the most difficult step, especially for the young or insecure writer. Heck, it's tough for the pros. Think of the classic image of an editor-- from the old Superman comics, for instance, wielding his red-ink pen with flourish, only interested in the facts. Especially when writing articles or in business, this is your best ally. With this image in mind, really look at what is necessary to make a logical progression. One trick is to put yourself under an artificial word restriction. Nothing helps cut unnecessary copy better than a specific word limit.
5) CRISP, CONCISE, CLEAR
These are the "3-C's" of good writing. While each writer has his/her own way of expressing themselves (and, in the case of fiction, more latitude is acceptable), these three points are integral parts of any successful writing.
CRISP - A fresh or meaningful viewpoint. Take a stand. The purpose of writing is to say something-- so say it!
CONCISE - Do not wander from the point. At least, not without a reason that directly relates to the original idea.
CLEAR - Make a steady progression from beginning to end. Don't leave major gaps in the progression.
Whether a report, a novel, an essay or an article -- even in poetry or song -- this rule applies. While editing, a writer must ask them self if the work succeeds in these three areas. If it doesn't, WHY? Analyze when and where it strays, even if that means working backward to the beginning.
6) PERSONAL WEAKNESS
Just as an athlete must learn to be aware of any physical weakness and compensate for it, so a writer must familiarize themself with their own bad habits or tendencies. A classic example is when a young writer masks their insecurity with a flourish of fancy words. But each writer has their own faults and must learn to guard against them. For example, when I was young, I had a nasty habit of using at least three adjectives whenever I described something. Eventually I saw this as the annoying flaw it was, and learned to choose the very best adjective and commit to it. Seeing this habit as a flaw was difficult. But it made me a stronger writer.
And that is the entire purpose of learning to edit one's own work: to grow and strengthen as a writer.--mo
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