How to Become a Better Writer by Becoming a Better Editor

How to Become a Better Writer by Becoming a Better Editor
Most writers know that following up with an edit will help you catch your mistakes, but what if you already know what mistakes you frequently make? How can you truly stop something that you probably aren’t thinking about as you are writing? Is there a way to prevent those mistakes to begin with? How do we correct our own fatal writing flaws?

Another fiction writer recently asked me how a person could remember to write in past tense when they are used to writing in present tense. Is there a technique to help you change how you write as you are writing, to incorporate things you have been advised to change?

For me, no. I find it disruptive to my thoughts if I’m constantly thinking “Don’t do it this way” and “Don’t forget this.” Have you ever tried to write a blog post, a book, an email, etc. while a child was talking to you? Same concept. Having a vocal or interior interjection just interrupts your flow, and for a writer, that can be disastrous.

(Incidentally, this is also why I rarely call anyone without setting a time to talk first. I don’t want to disrupt their thoughts. I know what I think of people who interrupt mine!)

Instead, I look at it this way: becoming a better editor makes you a better writer.

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When someone advises you, for example to write your story in past tense instead of present, write that advice on your list of things to check. Don’t stop yourself every time you write the wrong verb tense. Instead, catch it on the edit. Write until you run out of steam, and then go back through looking for your list of new corrections. Check those verbs. If you are making a point of looking for them, you will start noticing them and correcting them in your head before you even hit the keys. Before long, it will be second nature. This is also why a lot of writers can be a pain in the butt to read anything with, but hey, we’re a fun lot, right?

I always found that editing other writers’ work helped me find mistakes in my own. When you’re editing, you aren’t worried about coming up with the words, so you can concentrate on cleaning. You are looking at the work with a critical eye. Use this time to hunt for things that have been pointed out in your own work. Are you verbose? Do you start every sentence with the same word? Do you set up a “there are” construction frequently? Add these items to your editing checklist. When you get used to finding your frequent edits in other peoples’ work, you will be more apt to find them in your own, and you will gradually shift your writing to encompass the edits before you need to correct them.

What if you don’t work with other writers? Check online. Find a blog or a news website with lots of typos. It’s bound to have errors in structure and punctuation as well. Hone your skills there!

Or, get social! Join an author’s group, either online or in the real world. If the group itself doesn’t have an organized editing structure, find another author who you can exchange work with. Writing is a form of communication, after all, and it’s meant to be talked about, analyzed, and shared. Hopefully, you connect with someone else serious about editing their work, and the pair of you can provide tons of constructive feedback to help your work along.

And of course, once you have completed your pièce de résistance, be sure that you work with an editor, preferably a professional, who can truly polish it for public consumption!

If you are a writer, how do you approach this problem? Do you have a technique that works? Tell me about it in the comments!

Writing a book? No matter the genre, you will definitely want to grab my Expert Book Editor Checklist!

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