Whether you send five-hundred emails a day or are writing the Great American Novel, these three very small changes will instantly elevate your writing.
As a judge for an annual writing contest for unpublished authors, I repeat the following advice for almost every single entry. They are lessons I learned early in my career and make all the difference not only in my early writings to today, but often in my first draft to my second.
Commonly, new writers will learn about having a distinct voice to their prose. Having a distinct voice often is misinterpreted and leads to the writer settling themself into a comfort zone and no longer looking for ways to better their writing.
“I can write it however I want, because that is just my author voice.”
If this thought did not make you cringe, this article is for you. If you did cringe, read on to see if you can spot all the reasons why…
Yes, you can write what and however you want. And you SHOULD… during your first draft. Writing straight through without stressing over grammar, spelling and the like is important to many author’s workflow. I regularly publish my dirty first drafts to sites like ChapterBuzz to demonstrate this raw process.
Your second draft is when you consider the reader, according to Stephen King in his book, On Writing. I cannot agree more. You can maintain your author voice while also adapting to writing best practices. If you’ve read this far, you’ve demonstrated a desire to continue to learn and evolve your current techniques.
When you give others the opportunity to read your work before it is finished, you are opening a two-way communication. This comes in the form of feedback. The thing about communication is, controlling how someone delivers feedback is impossible. So the best thing to do is choose who you allow to give you feedback. It should be someone your trust to be professional but honest about the writing itself. Doing this will help you to view the critique objectively. But there are two ways you can avoid being hurt when someone does not like, or is critical of, your writing.
Two Ways to Deal With Criticism
- Step away from the situation until you are able to view the feedback objectively. Many times, when we feel there is nothing else to do with our writing than publish. When we receive contrary information, it is difficult to receive MORE feedback about how it could be better. Remember why you trusted this person with your work. When you are calm, look over the feedback again. You might have to do this a couple times to move past any negative feelings. WHATEVER YOU DO… ALWAYS COME BACK. Writing requires editing. Do not stop writing based on one person’s opinion.
- Simply decide if the criticism is true, false or subjective. You can (and should) completely ignore negative feedback that is false or subjective. You should consider the feedback that is true or subjective. Subjective criticism are personal preferences. Grammar is not really subjective, but your use of tropes or language sometimes is.
The final word I will give concerning an attitude towards elevating your writing is how you view those who provide guidance. With few exceptions, editors are not therapists. They look at your writing and point out ways to make it most enjoyable to the reader. This is what you’ve (hopefully) paid them to do. They have no other agenda. Editors do not have a desire to rip you apart as a person or attack your level of writing. They also consider the voice and angle you are trying to achieve, and give informed advice accordingly. An editors job is NOT to give your story another voice, or input their own personal ideas for the sake of their own ego. An editor has a true desire for your book to be enjoyed by as many people as possible. Here is a resource from Tiffany Yates Martin you can use to vet the right kind of editor for you.
Remove 98% Occurrences of “THAT”
Many new writers are guilty of writing as they speak. A quick and easy way to instantly elevate your writing is to stop using that. Often, you can remove the word from a sentence without altering the intended meaning. Other times, you can remove the word and adjust the verb to an -ing.
In similes and metaphors, that is the proper structure of the sentence. These cases should be used once every three pages or so.
In my example above, that is used as a pronoun referring to my author voice. You can change this occurrence by applying the next principle.
Pronouns are a Crutch
Specifically, pronouns for objects are a missed opportunity to describe the item in a more colorful or tactile way. This is where imagery plays into your favor. Take this opportunity, as much as you can, to redescribe the same object and make it real to the reader.
NOTE: As you can see in my use of it above, there are only so many ways to describe one thing. Once you’ve fully exhausted the technique, usually by the fourth mention of the object, you can revert to it.
Going back to our cringy example, “I can write it however I want, because that is just my author voice.”
What is it? A poem? Manuscript? Email? Instead, we can say “I can write a short story however I want.” This tells you much more about me and my writing focus. You can also remove the pronoun completely without altering the meaning of the sentence.
“…because that is just my author voice.”
That is how many Americans talk. In writing, that comes off a little sloppy. I will also point out the word just is also gratuitous and unnecessary.
If removing the words alters your sentence, you may have to put in more work to express your true intent. The effort proves your willingness to build your writing craft.
This sentence would read much better with a little work. We already decided that was a pronoun for author voice, but the repetition gives us an opportunity to describe the same noun in a different way.
“I can write however I want, because my author voice is unique to me.”
We may have fixed the sentence, but the attitude is still a poor one.
I LOVE assisting authors in elevating their writing with subtle, easy to apply shifts in their habits. Writing coaches are so much more than editors. They provide encouragement, but would never tell you to publish your first draft because the writing is already perfect like your best friend might. I spend as much time answering general questions about the publishing industry and processes as I do carefully considering a plot structure. The sooner you partner with a writing coach, the faster you’ll move from having an idea for a story to seeing your hardback on the shelf of your favorite store.
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