We decided to publish our ebook guide to writing as a blog post so you can digest it that way. If you’d like to download the ebook (it’s more colorful than a post!) check out our resources page! If you’d like to read it here, great! We’ve provided a handy table of contents to let you skip down to the appropriate chapter. Enjoy!
- Intro: Finding the Humanity in Writing
- Chapter 1: The Neurological Case for Writing
- Chapter 2: Getting to Know Your Audience
- Chapter 3: How Maintaining the Motivation to Write is Like a Romantic Relationship
- Chapter 4: How to Write a Killer Essay
- Chapter 5: The Eternal Battle Between Originality and Practicality
- Chapter 6: Four Difficulties Every Writer Comes Across and How to Slay Them
- Chapter 7: Writing Advice from the Experts
- Chatper 8: How Writing Every Day for Two Years Changed My Life
- Chapter 9: Lesson in Feedback from a Martian
- Chapter 10: Seven Habits of Highly Effective Editors
- Chapter 11: Scratch This Not That
- Did You Enjoy This Guide to Writing?
Intro: Finding the Humanity in Writing
An experienced writer will know a piece is never done; there is always more that can be fixed and improved. How is it then, given the first sentence is true, anything gets published at all? This question fascinates me and I have thought a lot about it.
Have you ever read an unabridged book? They usually aren’t read very often because they are extremely long and often filled with unnecessary details. I’m thinking of Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Three Musketeers as examples. Yet, millions of people across the world have hailed these books as some of the best classics of all time. Chances are these people read an abridged version AFTER the original was published.
But that was a long time ago. Authors were paid by how much they wrote, so of course, they included unnecessary details. Have you ever read a book, magazine, or newspaper that had a spelling error? Even after having who knows how many people read through the book, there was still an error. These are just two prime examples of how writing can always be improved. I don’t share these experiences to poke fun at the authors or condemn them. In fact, I find imperfect material charming.
Seeing these mistakes is a quick reminder that although we as a society hold high standards for our published works, we’re still human and make mistakes. It provides a small glimpse into an author’s struggle to encapsulate the story in the perfect form. What fits better than an imperfectly written book about imperfect characters trying to improve their circumstances? To me, that captures in large part what it means to be human.
Life is filled with stories such as these. Whether it be something as small as a punctuation error in a book or something big like gaps in historical records. As a society, we stitch up our writing. We stitch in new parts, restitch others, all in an attempt to make it better for ourselves and humanity. Sure it isn’t perfect, but it’s human. It’s honest. That’s what makes it worth reading.
We’ve decided to call this guide, “The Stitched up Guide to Writing” not only because it fits well with our company name but precisely because of the things already mentioned. We stitched in articles from different areas of writing and patched them together. My hope is that by reading this, you’ll be able to stitch up some of your own writing. #StitchItUp
Founder Stitch Writing
Chapter 1: The Neurological Case for Writing
Have you ever stopped to contemplate what is going on in the brain as you write? It’s actually quite interesting what goes on in the brain when you write. There are a number of studies that show the areas of the brain activated by writing. Here are three examples that shed some light on what happens to the brain when writing.
A Study of Novices and Experts
In 2014, the New York Times published an article about what happens in the brain when writing. This article drew from a study in which MRIs on both novice and expert writers were performed. The results were intriguing. As the novice writers scribbled their story, the visual part of the brain lit up. This means that the story was being imagined, which in turn was described on paper. On the other hand, when seasoned writers were scanned, the area of the brain in charge of speech activated. Rather than imagining a story, these people were narrating the story in their head as they wrote it down. This migration from images to storytelling is similar to progression made when practicing any other skill such as music or sports. It represents a shift from a conscious effort to accomplish a task to a more natural fluency that requires less mental taxation.
What this study does is put writing skills on the same plane as any other skill. Too often writing is held up on a pedestal as belonging to only those lucky enough to have a natural knack for it. Whereas for everyone else, it’s something you have to stumble through and hope you are good enough. This study shows writing, like any other attribute, can be developed with effort.
Writing as a Powerful Way of Emotional Communication
In February of 2015, a researcher based at Princeton University studied what happened when a personal story was told to a group of people. He found that the brain activity of the listeners aligned perfectly with that of the person telling the story. The emotions of both parties are the same. Not only does this show the potential influence we have over others, but also, the capacity we have to empathize with others.
It sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? But I think it highlights something that writers don’t consider. An author has the power to create an environment through words in which the reader experiences the emotions of the book first-hand. This is why books are helpful in developing emotional intelligence. Seeing how different situations and emotions play out in a book, one can identify how to successfully navigate not only the emotions of others but also of themselves.
Memory Enhancing Group Editing
You’ve probably heard that the more senses you use in remembering, the more likely information will stick. That also holds true when you involve other people in the writing process. During editing, one is talking, listening, moving, and writing. All of which reinforce anything that is learned or taught. According to a neurologist at the South Coast Writing Project, all of this enhances long-term memory and, “[I]ncreases [the] efficiency of information retrieval and durability.”
I’ll admit, this example isn’t as exciting as the first two but it’s just as applicable. The world tries to beat into us perfection on the first try. As a society, we buy into this as a whole. When you involve others in the editing process, it provides a wonderful counter to the first-perfectionist belief. Receiving constructive feedback without being offended, and with an attitude of wanting to improve, is one of the quickest ways to improve writing.
Consider the Brain When Writing
The next time you sit down to write, think about what is going on in the brain. Do you write by imagining the story or by narrating it? As you write, consider the emotions you feel and if you want the readers to feel the same way. Once you finish, sit down with your besties and talk about what you can do to make it better. It couldn’t hurt, write?
Chapter 2: Getting to Know Your Audience
Have you ever written a paper or speech, and nailed it, but when you delivered it/ turned it in, the audience didn’t react the way you wanted? Knowing your audience is key to writing well. It is the foundation to all good writing. Knowing your audience takes time and requires a lot of research. By following these tips to improve you’ll be on your way to understanding your audience.
Know Your Audience
In order to write well, you must know your audience. The more you know, the easier it is to write for them and address specific concerns. This is true for writing school papers, web copy, bios, resumes, anything really. If you know your target audience, you can write anything. You need to know what they like, what they hate, where who their friends are, what they value. Everything about them.
A good example of this is in a guest post about playwriting from our blog. In the post, the author mentions that if you are going to write a period play, you have to know everything about that era. How people dressed, what they did, how they talked, what they valued, who associated with who and so on. The same thing goes with writing for anyone. If my audience is a single mom, who blogs about her Etsy quilting projects, I’m going to be able to personalize my writing towards her better than if I only knew she was a single mom.
Research Your Niche
In order to personalize your writing towards others, you have to do research. This could be keyword research to find out what people are searching for or simply googling to see what people are talking about in regards to your subject. As you read what comes up in the search engine results, you’ll begin to understand what’s important to your audience.
For example, If I had a background in marketing and SEO. I would try and keep up with the latest SEO best practices and ways in which to can become a better marketer. A few times a week I would comb through SEO blogs and advice from top marketers. By doing so I would come to know the SEO community likes to keep up with Google’s search engine updates and AMP websites among other things. If I were to write a blog post about those things, the knowledge from the blogs and other websites would help me hone in on my readership.
Practice Makes Perfect
Getting to know your audience is a long-term commitment. It is only by understanding them over time that customers and the community let you in and allow you to know what REALLY matters to them. Don’t fret if at first, you don’t get the response you are looking for. But as you spend more time with your audience and befriend them, you’ll be able to tailor more to them. Sure you’ll still run into bumps along the way, but the important thing is trying to understand and improve. In time, it always pays off.
Chapter 3: How Maintaining the Motivation to Write is Like a Romantic Relationship
Often, we start off a piece of writing, either for business, school or fun with excitement. We’ll crank out a lot of words in a short amount of time. If fortunate, we’ll be done before our ideas are. Though, I’ve found this instance is rarer than not. Usually, the ideas run out leaving us frustrated. This is commonly known as “writer’s block.” You have to push through it and keep writing! Take a step back and identify your purpose or goal in writing, whatever it may be. Seeing where you fit in the big picture can motivate at all stages of the writing process.
Here is an example. When I was living in Malaysia as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I made the goal to write every day for one hour (follow this to see what I wrote about). There were plenty of days I questioned my sanity and if what I was doing was of any benefit. The reason I continued to write was I felt that others down the road might read my writings, relate to me, or gain insight. Many of you probably draw motivation for those reasons that as well. Identifying our motivation or setting a goal can help us at all stages of writing. Both in the beginning and in continuing. Although motivation to write is good, it is not enough. We have to be engaged with the content.
Keeping the Love Alive
When I was in high school, I had an idea to write a sci-fi book. It was going to be about a car that became sentient and eventually befriended a boy. Both of them stumble upon a conspiracy at the car manufacturer to take control of all cars in the world. It was a story of automation gone wrong. I was inspired by Transformers, but because everyone brought that up, I became adamant that it wouldn’t turn into a Transformers story. Sci-fi writers would have been proud, I worked hard, did my research, and diligently wrote to a schedule. I never finished it. After five chapters I stopped. I let the love affair I had with my book die. That happened to plays, a poem, and short stories as well.
Not everyone has the luxury to pick what they write about. Often, this is the case in businesses and schools. Coming up with advertising, web content, press releases, sales pitches, school essays, or reports, can be as dry as the Sahara Desert. I think the answer lies in the relationships around us. You have to work at them every day. Even if just a little bit. By doing so, you don’t forget what people mean to you. It’s the same with writing. If an immovable object (like writer’s block) seems to be in your way, I find that if you start to try and move it, the obstacle removes itself.
Work on it a little bit a day. By putting effort into something, regardless of current feelings towards it, eventually, you begin to care. Finally, you only fail once you stop trying.
Seeing the Big Picture
Zooming out, identifying your goal and seeing how your writing fits into the big picture will help you stay motivated. Working on writing every day, whether for business, school, or fun, will ensure that you stay “in love” with you piece. Writing this post has been hard. However, I’m trying to practice what I preach.
Chapter 4: How to Write a Killer Essay
According to a study done by Collegeboard, companies lose 3.1 billion dollars every year due to lack of writing skills. It’s no doubt that writing, and doing so well, is a very sought after skill. The best way to improve writing is by mastering how to write an essay.
Most of us dread essays. It is synonymous with long hours, original content, and editing from our peers. Few ever grow out of this dislike of essays (or writing for that matter). We carry it through elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and into the workplace. However you may feel about essays, our parents and teachers were right about one thing: they are the foundation of all other writing.
The Root Cause
Learning to hate essays begins young. As young as 5th or 6th grade, definitely by middle school. During our younger years, we worked on spelling, reading, and penmanship. All we had to do was worksheets and take spelling tests in order to learn. Once we began writing complex sentences, grammar and essays were introduced. We became more accountable for our writing while not having a perfect grasp of grammar or structure. Raise your hand if you groaned and subsequently zoned out every time your teacher had you pull out the thick grammar book that was written in the 1700s. I did. Essays only amplified those feelings.
Amidst the ever increasing writing standards of our teachers, the festering disgust for essays was formed. Despite our penmanship and spelling skills, writing was hit and miss. Good writing was in the eyes of the beholder and formulated around a seemingly hidden standard. Teachers required us to have “original” thoughts. Most kids haven’t had enough life experience to have “original” thoughts. We spent our youth worried about whether our thoughts were “original” or good enough. What made an already stressful experience even more frustrating was that some kids got it. Even, dare I say it intuitively got it. For those of us that had trouble grasping essays as a kid, reexamining them now that we are older, will yield better results.
Three Parts to an Essay
While some may debate the effectiveness of five paragraph essays, I believe the principles they teach are effective. I’m talking about the introduction, body, and conclusion. These three parts help formulate thoughts and evidence.
This first section introduces your topic. The setting and context are set for what you are going to write about. This can be accomplished by providing a brief relevant history of the topic, personal anecdote, or by simply introducing it. In addition to the context for your topic, the main points are also set out. These main points provide a transition to your body paragraphs.
The body section or your essay contains all your main points and a discussion of those points. Normally, you state the point in the first or second sentence, give supporting details and then provide a transition sentence to the next point.
In the body section, it is important to state the topic in the first or second sentence. Following that, make sure the supporting details also support the main point. It is easy to get off track. The supporting details can also be more than one paragraph. Once one point is finished, provide a transition sentence to the next point.
Transition sentences are used all throughout an essay. They are used at the end of the introduction to introduce the topics of the essay. They are used throughout the body paragraphs to connect points. Finally, they are used to connect to the conclusion. In order to write a good transition sentence, you need to figure out how the two points intersect. When the transition sentences are in place, it’s time to work on the conclusion.
In my career as a writer, this is the most forgotten section I’ve seen. Often, people do well on the introduction, talk about their points with gusto, but leave it at that. Implying that by supplying the points, the reader is able to make the conclusion on their own. While that may be true for a few people, for most of us, we need a conclusion.
The conclusion ties everything that has been written together. A conclusion answers the questions of, “Why should I care?” and “What should I do because of what I have read?” The main points should also be restated to remind the reader what has been read and to reiterate the conclusion.
Essays are hard. There is no doubt about that. We’ve dreaded them since elementary school. Yet, they form a foundation for all other writing. By knowing how to formulate thoughts, support them and present them in a structured way, you’ll be ahead of most people. When the principles of an introduction, body, and conclusion are mastered, these strategies can be applied to all other types of writing. From writing a book to writing web content, you’ll be prepared.
Chapter 5: The Eternal Battle Between Originality and Practicality
A quick Google search previous to beginning revealed over 30 posts on originality. In reality, this article will probably be added to the ever growing pile of unoriginal web content. For those of you that decide to stick around and read, I’ll do my best to provide something original about originality.
The Paradox of Originality
When it comes to writing any type of web content, the goal is to be found. Yet, oftentimes, the articles that are found the most are the most unoriginal. Anyone ever heard of top 10 ways to do this or that? How about little know gardening tips? Perhaps tricks to create the perfect pot roast? Yes, these are often the posts that rank well in the search results. Although I am one to bash, I myself am guilty, having written about tips for editing and how to write web content.
I’ll admit that lists, tips, tricks, and even how to guides can be clever. My argument is that the most intriguing and first-page worthy content doesn’t always show up on the first page of searches.
What Type of Content Are You Looking For?
The aim of Google and other search engines is to return the most authoritative, timely, and relevant search results. The focus on practicality is clear. Maybe that’s why we can stay on Buzzfeed all day reading lists and taking quizzes about which Harry Potter character we are. Furthermore, our ever increasingly busy lives hardly give us the time to sit down and read a thought-provoking piece of writing. In the culture of instantaneous, only the soundbites and movie trailers of writing survive.
An Origin(al) Story
Perhaps a prime example of this type of adverseness to originality is Hollywood. I’ve heard people say that sequels, remakes, and adaptations are only being made and that there aren’t a lot of original plot lines happening. I’d agree with this. I don’t know if the director is to blame so much as the studios. It’s all about making money. They don’t want to make a movie that doesn’t make lots of money. That obviously gets in the way of trying new movies, TV shows, etc..As a result, you get cookie cutter plots and characters. And we are willing to eat it up! Just like the lists and tips and tricks of the web.
It’s in Business Too
It isn’t just Hollywood. I think it’s easy to point fingers at them but this culture is also in the business world. In my management class at school, we had a lady that worked for Boeing come and talk about her work there as a consultant. She said that it was sometimes hard to get people to change and try new things because the people she worked with weren’t always open to trying new things. I’ve heard people say at work that they had such and such an idea but were too scared to talk about it to an executive because they were afraid they would get fired. That’s a sad point to be at but I think it’s more common than not. Unfortunately, it seems that unless you have credentials and are successful by the world’s standards, that you aren’t given the light of day.
There has to be Balance
I understand that there is a fine line between being creative and earning money. You have to find the balance between coming up with original ideas that have meaning and earning money. Otherwise, you can’t continue that cycle. It’s hard to do. I believe that you should at least maintain a culture of being open to ideas and talking about them, even if they are crazy. In my experience, they often lead to other ideas or meaningful discussions, usually both. Original articles take an ordinary topic and give an extraordinary spin. When practical (or “proven”) content is on your website (the lists, tips, and tricks), in movies, TV shows, book etc.. you’ll do well. Rather than having that as a means to an end ($$), use it as a means to get people to your original content (which may not do as well at first).
Chapter 6: Four Difficulties Every Writer Comes Across and How to Slay Them
Whether you have ongoing troubles with writing or just the occasional trip up, all of us need help at some point, myself included. Although the difficulties in writing are many, there are ways to overcome them. Modern technology and simple tips and tricks can help you overcome the most common mistakes.
Nothing is more frustrating than sitting down to write and not knowing how to begin. This is a result of our internal editor scratching out everything that isn’t a “perfect’ beginning. The easiest way to overcome this dilemma is to begin writing about a topic. Doing so will get ideas flowing. Often the internal editor will tell that what you are doing is a waste of time and that nothing will come of the exercise.
DON’T LISTEN TO THAT VOICE!
Continue to write and make an effort and the roadblock that stood in your way before even embarking on the journey will be removed. Don’t get comfortable, once you start, you need to figure out the content.
Let’s say you’ve started, but the content still isn’t coming. Don’t fret, coming up with original content is hard. The best advice I have for extracting ideas is to gain insight from the world around you. The way in which you go about this varies depending on the type of writing.
If I were to write an essay for school on a school play, I might attend a rehearsal, read articles about the play, learn about the playwright and perhaps interview a cast member. If I were writing an article for an industry, I would research generally what terms I needed to understand, recent news on the subject, what current sentiment is regarding the future of the topic and interview a person internally to get their insight on the topic. Focus on learning as much as you can about a topic. That way, you’ll be able to see a bird’s eye view of the topic and dive into specifically what interests you. Now that the content is secure, it is time to consider word choice.
There are a few resources you can use to prevent the repetition of words. A thesaurus a helpful tool in finding synonyms. If you don’t, go to a thesaurus website. Another technique is to have someone else read the writing. Surprisingly, people are quite intuitive when it comes to editing others’ papers. For other editing techniques such as these, read this post. An important part of wordsmithing is finding a place for proper grammar.
Grammar is frustrating. No matter how many times I learn the rules, I always forgot them. To solve this, I use is Grammarly. This simple tool checks writing for spelling and grammar. If you purchase the premium account, there is a feature that tracks your word use and flags word repetition and suggests synonyms. Plus, by inviting friends to sign up for Grammarly, you both get a free week of premium.
Practice Lessens the Difficulties in Writing
Professional and amateur writers alike face these problems. They don’t magically disappear once you cross a certain threshold of experience. The tools mentioned will help you write and overcome incorrect grammar, word choice, and content issues. With repetition and time, the frequency of these roadblocks will become minimal and your command of the English language will increase.
Chapter 7: Writing Advice from the Experts
I have heard talks by excellent writers and even met a few good writers in my time. Malcolm Gladwell attended the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards the year I won
and Obert Skye (Levan Thumps) came to my middle school once. Although my claim to fame is minimal at best, there are a few times in my life when I received impactful writing advice. Unfortunately, not from the above authors.
Isaac Asimov’s Writing Advice
Back in the day, Issac Asimov sat down with Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek) and talked about what made good sci-fi writing. I have a recording of that interview.
The last question that Roddenberry asks Asimov is about writing advice. Asimov says that a good writer should use all things human, human-made, and all things that impinge upon the human being as his raw material. In short, he uses the universe as his raw material. The first time I heard this interview, I was was in the process of writing a sci-fi novel. Not only did it re-enthuse for writing, it helped understand that you can and should write about everything.
We have a beautiful planet and incredible creations in space. We get to experience, love, loss, family, breathtaking, heartbreaking, joy, sorrow, the funny, anger, innovation, disaster and a myriad of other aspects of life. In order to write well, you have to have a passion for the world around you. Take it all in and write. Sure, having the entire universe at your fingertips is overwhelming. There are so many potential topics to write about. This is where the second best piece of advice I received comes into play.
My Writing Coach’s Advice
This advice came while I was working on my personal essay for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. What he taught me was persistence. I remember spending the good chunk of the week at work on that essay with him. I had 6 drafts before it was complete. The lesson that came out of that experience was that you can succeed in writing if you don’t give up. Stubborn persistence brings greatness. When you pick a topic, stick with it through till the end. Since then, I’ve tried to remember writing is never complete by the first round.
Experience the World
Combining the two pieces of advice together, you can boil it down to experience the world. Be aware of and draw upon the world around you. Then be persistent in writing about it and trying out new things.
Chatper 8: How Writing Every Day for Two Years Changed My Life
I had no idea what to study. Just a few days ago I had entered the missionary training center (MTC) as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. As part of our daily routine and class schedule, we had an hour a day to study the gospel. We used the time writing down lessons plans on topics such as faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. Did I mention everything we were teaching was in a foreign language?
Needless to say, I felt a little in over my head.
I figured I had to know the doctrine in my own language before I attempted to teach it in another. Using the index in the back of my scriptures I began my study of faith. I wrote scriptures in my notebook along with my thoughts and practical applications. This is what pretty much everyone else did. While this was fulfilling to some extent, I felt like there had to be a better way. Yes, I was drinking from the cup of knowledge but only sipping. I needed to gulp it down.
My solution: study something I wanted to.
I chose the book of Revelation in the Bible. Some might say I chose arguably the most difficult book to comprehend. I told myself I wasn’t going to move from one verse to the next until I understood the verse completely. I vowed to read all relevant cross references, write down ideas, summaries, and any findings. Thus began my two years of writing an hour a day.
For the next 5 and a half weeks at the MTC I read Revelation. I wrote everything down. I enjoyed my experiment in studying so much I picked another book of scripture. Once I completed that, I moved on to another. On and on it went for two years. In addition to all the knowledge I discovered, I learned how to research, think critically, and express my thoughts in a simple manner that could be understood.
How to Research with Limited Access to Resources
As part of the missionary rules, I could only bring my set of scriptures and a very select few gospel related books. Since we only emailed family and friends once a week, I didn’t have the time to perform further readings on topics I was writing about in my study of the scriptures. As a result, this forced me to become resourceful. I learned is that when you have limited resources, you begin to think creatively.
That creativity leads to innovations and learning that you would not have found otherwise. It’s an opportunity to rely on what you know and perform targeted learning to fill the gap to achieve your results. Over time, this helped me learn how to express my thoughts coherently.
Writing in a Simple and Conversational Way
Many of my missionary friends read what I was writing. There was a running joke that if someone were to read my scripture notebooks, knowing nothing about me, they’d think I was crazy. They said my writing was like I was talking to myself. I wasn’t writing to a specific person. Just trying to point out my train of thought to show people how I came to the conclusions I did. I also included stories from my mission to illustrate points and provide a source to ideas I had.
Walking the reader along my train of thought helped them relate to me. Occasionally having a breath of fresh personable content can make you feel human again. Some of the conclusions I made in my notebooks have been wrong. Of those, a few I didn’t find out until months and months later. But I made sure to notify the reader of those wrong ideas as I realized them.
How These Things Affected Me After Coming Home
I returned home from my mission in July of 2015. By the end of those two years, I had over 22 notebooks filled out, amounting to over 3000 pages written on various topics. I’ve kept up writing about the scriptures since coming back. I’m now in the process of putting my writings on a blog called Towards a Greater Light. Feel free to check it out.
Remember how I told you I wrote about the day when I would have access to more resources and could learn a lot more? That day hasn’t come. Occasionally I’ll look up a word online in the 1828 dictionary but I’ve found using a few resources lets me think things through and come up with ideas. I’ve learned more having fewer resources with writing than lots.
My research skills, thinking critically, and writing simply has absolutely translated over to business I’ve done. I’m able to conduct research effectively and then write about it, in the same manner, I did while serving a mission. Those same skills have also helped me to become a continuous learner. Now, I actively seek out the things I want to learn and learn them, just like I did with my scripture study.
Chapter 9: Lesson in Feedback from a Martian
One of the first posts I ever wrote on my blog was about how to edit. Tip number six was about gathering feedback from others as you are writing. Don’t dismiss the importance of feedback. For most of us, it’s hard to ask someone to review our work. As we write our novel, report, marketing content, or letter, we go through a struggle. We put a little bit of ourselves into it.
It becomes personal.
Sometimes advice is synonymous with a personal assault on who we are. The words that often go through my head are, “You do NOT KNOW WHAT I WENT THROUGH TO BRING THIS INTO THE WORLD!!”
It’s easy to overreact.
I think it’s important to approach writing as always being incomplete. Nobody has a 100% final draft. There is always something you can do to improve it. This way, when it comes time to get feedback from friends, family, co-workers, editors, or anyone else interested in what you have, it’s easy. These people are merely helping you move closer to finishing your work.
One of the best examples of taking feedback well is the book, The Martian.
An Unlikely Help
When Andy Weir, the author of The Martian, decided to write his book, he posted it in serial form on his website for anyone to read. He wanted to write a space story that was as accurate as possible. Andy conducted lots of research and picked up a growing base of readers, some of them scientists. They would comment and help him fine tune his scientific points. The Martian became so popular on his website, many encouraged him to publish it as an Amazon Kindle book, which he did. In three months, it sold 35,000 copies (at 99 cents by the way). Pretty soon he had marketing agents and publishers calling him to publish a book.
Gather Feedback from Subject Matter Experts (SME)
Now, I’m not saying if you gather feedback to the extent that Andy Weir did, your writing will be that successful. What his story illustrates is by asking for help when writing, and when taken well, the material will become better. Especially if you ask the right people. Weir was writing a space novel, he got feedback from scientists.
Many years ago, I wrote an FBI investigation scene for my book, I asked my grandfather, a retired FBI agent, to review a scene in my book. What he told me helped with the dialogue, dress, and actions of the character. I would have never known that on my own. Andy Weir probably couldn’t have learned the about the changes he needed to make except the scientists that told him.
What If You Don’t Need an SME?
Not everyone needs or has access to a subject matter expert. If you’re writing a bio for an executive at the company, you aren’t going to have someone around to give you the fine details of what happened at that person’s previous place of employment. Nor do you need a neuro marketer to tell you the how every word you write is affecting the audience’s brain. There is such thing as non-technical writing (believe it or not). Just grab a pair of fresh eyes. They don’t have to be experts in writing either. But if they are, it certainly helps. You don’t realize it but when you’ve sat there writing, you become blind to all the mistakes you’ve made. It’s like a weird version of Stockholm Syndrome.
The More Eyes the Better
At the beginning, I said that the best way to approach writing is by always considering your piece unfinished. Yet, when you involve lots of people read your writing, just like with The Martian, you can produce a great piece of work. Think of writing like an asymptote. At first, you make big changes. Maybe you scrap the entire thing and rewrite. As you go through more and more drafts, you make smaller tweaks. Yet, the status of perfection is never quite reachable. But, just a with an asymptote, you can get pretty darn close.
Chapter 10: Seven Habits of Highly Effective Editors
My mom once told me that you didn’t have to be a good writer, only a good editor. I feel like that goes to a certain extent. I think the key is to find the write balance (pun intended). Here are seven tips that have helped me in editing my writing.
1. Read it Out Loud to Yourself
It’s amazing how many errors we miss when reading in our heads. Perhaps it is because we’ve just spent the past who knows how many hours writing. By reading our writing out loud, we focus on every word. Additionally, when you read it out loud, you hear how it sounds. One of my writing teachers told me that writing that sounds good out loud always looks good in your head. Writing that sounds good in your head, doesn’t always sound good out loud. In my opinion, one of the best examples of writing to read out loud is the Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien. In particular, the songs and poems he wrote in there. Check it out sometime. I read this book to my brothers when I was younger. Reading to others is next on the list.
2. Read it Out Loud to Someone Else
This is a step up from reading it to yourself. I’ve edited plenty of papers myself, but it seems like the most important edits come from reading to others. I think it’s because subconsciously we want the person we’re reading to, to like it. Although it may seem as if we are reading normally, in fact, we pay closer attention to the writing. The most trying part of this tip is making it through the piece because we verbalize our mistakes to another. One of those mistakes is using “filler” words consistently.
3. Editing Out “Filler” Words
We all have them. The way we talk nowadays doesn’t help much either. Personally, for me, I like to use the word “that” a lot. Other examples of filler words are just, so, very, really, but, of, some, and like. Noticing filler words is hard. In my writing, I have to do a command+F (or Ctrl+F) and then type in the suspected filler word to notice them. It is a tad tedious going through one at a time, but I believe It’s worth the effort. If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the amount of “filler” words, just take some time off and come back to your paper later.
4. Take Time Off and Come Back to it Later
How many of you have been through the following scenario? You have a paper due the next day, so you stay up all night working on it. Finally, at 3 am you go to sleep. The next morning you wake up to do a final editing of your paper only to find a monster wrote the article. No one in their right mind would write what’s on your paper. I’ve been through that a lot. The power of taking time off from writing is apparent in this scenario. When we allow ourselves to forget about the problems embodied in our writing piece, somehow we unwittingly solve those problems without trying. Coming back can be analogous to hitting the ground running like all the clouds have cleared and we know what to do. It’s quite invigorating. It’s even better when you finish the paper.
5. Review First Draft and Final Draft
This is something I learned from a friend recently. Before I jump into why to do this, I have to say, keep copies of your drafts! When I first started keeping copies of my drafts, I thought it was weird. I mean, you edit drafts to change them, not to keep them. Save yourself time in the end and keep the drafts. Ok, back to why to review first and last draft. This is mostly to shorten the learning curve for your next writing piece. Often, it’s glaringly clear what you did good and bad between the two drafts. Take note of it. Remember it. Implement it next time. You may save yourself a draft or two in the future.
6. Get Feedback From Others
Up until this point, all my tips have been things you could do yourself. This one is for others to do. For the perfectionist writers in all of us, letting someone who doesn’t do editing for the New York Times can be hard. I think one of the most difficult things about writing is having the humility to allow others to critique your work and considering their feedback. This can especially be difficult when you feel that someone’s editing skills are not par with your writing skills.
We have this false notion that writing skills equal editing skills. It’s important to remember that even though the person reviewing your work may not be as skilled as you think you are, they may find something to fix that you didn’t. On the flip side of that, others may not want to get feedback from others because they are afraid of critiques.
Writing is a way to express feelings and ideas. For some, it may be the only comfortable way. Some writers put pieces of their soul into their writing, in addition to feelings and ideas. If critiques are harsh, some may take it deeply personal and retreat. While there is no one way to deal with this, I would offer this advice. For writers like that, most people are only looking to help you with your writing. It isn’t a judgment on who you are. For those giving feedback, be sensitive in providing feedback. Help writers to understand what they did well and what they should consider changing. One of the most important things you should remember is that it’s the author’s paper, not yours. Just because you give feedback, doesn’t mean they’ll always take it.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Go Through Multiple Drafts
The title says it all. Growing up I feel like we have drilled into our head first draft, second draft, final draft. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s important to realize occasionally you need to write more drafts. Or fewer drafts. The guiding principle here is to write until you have achieved a quality piece that you are proud of.
Editing Shouldn’t Scare You
I have the opportunity to teach kids a lot about writing. I try to help them understand that we all make mistakes when we write. That isn’t something that should bother you. Merely review your work when complete and enlist others to help you find and fix the mistakes. Writing shouldn’t result in drudgery and loathing. Writing and editing are how we create and refine ideas that allow people around us to explore and experience the world in ways they never thought possible.
Chapter 11: Scratch This Not That
I’ve talked about editing before on my blog. In this article, I’m going to build on that and talk about some bad trends in writing that I’ve seen when editing. Between teaching kids how to write, and preparing peoples’ books and blog posts, I edit a fair share of material. I edit everything from elementary school writing to Ph.D. levels of writing. What I have noticed is people have a lot of trouble with transition sentences, pronouns, and conclusions.
Forgetting Transition Sentences
These types of sentences are import because they link your ideas together. Transition sentences go at the end of a paragraph. When I teach my students about them, I tell them to think of the something that your two ideas have in common.
For example, if your paragraph was about a specific type of snakes venom and your next paragraph was about the diet of that snake, you might consider writing something such as, ” The such and such snake’s venom is so powerful it causes the prey’s spinal column to cease functioning, petrifying the animal before it is slowly consumed.” In this sentence we’ve mentioned both the topic we are currently focused on, the snake’s venom, and alluded to the topic that is going to be mentioned in the next paragraph, eating. While it is true transition sentence issues are mainly brought up in and confined to essays for school, that does not exclude them from the business world.
Many of the pieces I have edited for business publications have been lacking in transition sentences. Paragraph headers many times can mitigate the need for them. However, if added, transition sentences contribute to the overall flow of the piece. Many times it is up to personal preference of the editor, type of writing and the audience. Writers should always be wary of these types of considerations. Another problem to be aware of when writing is an overabundance of pronouns.
Too Many Pronouns in a Row
A pronoun is anything that takes the place of a noun. This includes words such as he, she, it, them, they, and their. Often when writing, we assume our audience can keep track of the subject, which is why we use pronouns. However, it can be easy to lose track of the subject if the sentence always contains pronoun. I’m not promoting using the subject in every sentence. That becomes tedious and annoying.
The best way to avoid this bad trend is to evaluate your sentences as you go. Ask yourself, “Can the reader can logically keep up with what I’m talking about? Could my reader think I’m referring to something else?” These types of questions will help keep your audience up to speed on the topic of discussion.
Scratch This Not That
For example, when writing a personal bio you use the full name of the person in the first sentence. From then on, you are either using “he,” “she,” or the first or last name of the person (but not both) for the rest of the bio.
This example reflects a general rule of thumb when talking about the subject. Mention it by name every other sentence. Failure to correctly implement pronouns, especially in a place such a conclusion where the piece is wrapping up, leaves the reader feeling confused.
Editing conclusions are the most difficult part for me in editing papers. In short, conclusions do exactly what the name says it does, concludes. It wraps up the piece. As my one of my writing professors used to tell me, “Tell me, what you’re going to tell me, tell me, and tell me what you told me.”
Scrappy conclusions are the broadest of the three trends. In blog posts, sometimes people end their post after a list or after a specific piece of advice. However, this rarely happens. Usually people have too short or an improperly structured conclusion. Conclusions, like all paragraphs, needs a topic sentence. Since the topic of the paragraph is to conclude, the sentence should reflect a summary of or conclusion. This typically involves restating your main points. Afterward, the final sentence(s) provide an application or a “Why should I care?” sentence.
My Own Conclusion
What better way to end a post on editing papers than by having a transition SECTION about concluding paragraphs? Hopefully, I do well. All the above trends are easy to slip into. It’s easier to just start a new section than taking the time to write a transition sentence. Pronouns can get in the way of clarity in our hurry to write quickly. The conclusion is always the elephant in the room. They are hard to write well and it can be difficult to end on a positive note. With a little practice and attention to detail, these common issues will disappear from your writing repertoire.
Did You Enjoy This Guide to Writing?
If you’ve read the entire thing, pat yourself on the back because YOU are a trooper. I hope this has helped you in some way improve your writing, even if you didn’t read the entire thing. If you have any feedback for us feel free to contact us.