How to Be a Better Writer

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Expert Advice on Learning from Your Editor

Writers write.

Practice makes perfect.

The best writers are avid readers.

There are enough clichés and witticisms to fill buckets with well-intentioned advice on how to be a better writer. And since writing is one of those tasks that most people loathe – in fact, many would rather face a root canal than write a 500-word blog post – those words of wisdoms usually fall to the bottom of a dry well and stay trapped there forever. Good intentions, after all, pave the path to hell.

Be a better writer by listening to an editor

And while the best advice, cliché or not, holds plenty of truth, there are many more practical, pedantic steps that you need to take to learn how to be a better writer. So take a teaspoon of sugar to help this medicine go down a little easier, as you swallow the following tips to be a better writer:

  • Take writing classes from people you respect
  • Write for teachers, mentors or colleagues who don’t hold back criticism
  • Accept criticism; that’s the way you learn
  • Welcome criticism so you can grow as a writer
  • Ask for more criticism because only the dead stop learning
  • Lose your defenses; be vulnerable, honest and open to good advice
  • Drop the excuses and keep writing; you improve by doing
  • Hire a good editor and you’ll learn more than you’d imagine

The Magnificent Birth of a Sentence

When you put your heart and a bit of your soul – not to mention a good chunk of your valuable time – into an article, story or blog post, you feel invested. It’s natural to be protective of your chosen phrases and cool alliterations. You may even get mushy, as many writers do, and think of your prose as your children, since they were born in your brain, slid down your arms to your hands and ended up on the page.

You may have sweat over each revision until you were sure you got it exactly right. Getting up in the middle of the night with just the right opening sentence is truly a thrill that gives any writer, professional or amateur, kind of a rush. It’s a grand morning that starts out with your muse in full regalia.

Then the Evil Editor Pounces

But the feeling doesn’t last. By the time you turn in your beloved “masterpiece,” a sense of dread hovers over you like a dark cloud you can’t shake. You may even hit the Send button believing, at least deep down, that it isn’t quite your very best work. But you love it anyway. It’s all yours and no one can take that away from you.

Until your editor does exactly that. That evil writer-wannabe sits all high and mighty on her throne, just waiting to cut your work to shreds. You have a feeling that she just loves to pick it apart, to rip your precious babies into a mish-mash of obscurity that you don’t even recognize. With your ego screaming in denial and your sense of self-worth lying in tatters on the floor, you think that the last thing your editor ever wants to do is to help you be a better writer.

Feedback Feeds Your Talent

Whether your editor does just a word-by-word line edit, correcting your grammar and deleting clichés, or rearranges your copy so that it flows better, it’s feedback you need to listen to. Instead of throwing a tantrum and whining like a baby, take it like a professional. Swallow your pride, and force your ego to pay attention. Those characteristics are merely protecting you, not helping you be a better writer.

In actuality, pride and ego are the enemies of greatness. You can practice all day, every day. You can surround yourself with readers who feed your ego and tell you only good things about your writing. And one day you’ll realize that you’ll never be a better writer. You need criticism. You need someone telling you to improve. If you don’t want to learn, then stop now. If you accept mediocrity, then don’t use a skilled editor.

Be a Better Writer … with Help and Humility

But without an editor willing to tear your work apart, any raw talent you have will remain undeveloped. It’s like walking around with your skirt tucked into your panties and not listening to anyone trying to tell you. It’s like going on stage with spinach in your front teeth and not understanding why people are laughing at you.

Read the acknowledgements in most best-sellers, and you’ll notice that even famous authors always mention their editors. Good editors are those selfless professionals who have only one goal: to create the best reading experience possible. And by succeeding, they help create a better writer.

An experienced editor knows: you will rise to the occasion if you have the talent; you will write the next book better if you have the drive; and you will be a better writer today than you were yesterday if you have the inclination to learn. When you rely on your scolding, caring, prodding, exacting editor – one who doesn’t hesitate to wield her axe to mold your message and massage your babies until they sing with joy – you’ll not only fashion a story that moves your readers, but you’ll also be a better writer.

Posted by on January 30, 2018 in Writing

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