Write Less, Edit More, Get Read
If there is a lesson in journalism for you, it would be that the quickest way for inexperienced writers to improve is mastering the art of rewriting
“Write less, edit more, then edit again… submit fewer pieces, submit only polished work… then you become a writer who gets read”
This was written in chalk on the front board in a writing class I once took and this old school wisdom described what it takes to be a professional writer more clearly than any advice I ever received.
My writing career began as a small-town newspaper journalist, which is a grandiose way to say we wrote everything from the local city council news and high school sports to obituaries.
The paper was a daily serving a small Midwest town. Working on a newspaper that had to be filled every day forced you to write quickly, under the constant pressure of a deadline, and our editor always drove us to use the least amount of words you could to get the story across to the reader. If you succeeded, you kept your job, and the $250 per week it earned you as an entry-level beat writer working sixty hours per week.
Journalism teaches you to write cleanly and quickly, but once submitted, your work is sent to an editor that rewrites, a step most inexperienced writers on their own neglect, or often shorten if they are new to the process.
Our editors fixed minor mistakes, but big issues were highlighted and sent back to the writer, who now had less time to rewrite as the deadline loomed.
We wrote, we were corrected by a seasoned editor, we fixed our work, then submitted it again. We wrote, then rewrote, then published, which is the same process all writers should master early in their careers who want to be read and consistently published.
If there is a lesson in journalism for you, it would be the quickest way for inexperienced writers to improve their work is to master the art of rewriting. If there is one skill in all of writing that is not sexy, but necessary for your survival, it is learning to rewrite, and then rewrite again.
Easy tips to create better writing today
Eliminate the need for more volume
The need to sit and crank out article after article means you have been gifted with a creative force in your head, but the downside is endless pages do not prove you are a good writer.
Volume is the enemy of quality for most new writers, but we fall into the emulation trap where we fixate on our writing heroes and copy how they get it done in their careers. We follow a successful writer who writes an article about submitting two or three articles per day, every week, as her personal approach, and we want her success so we do what she does.
This style works for her, her experience, and who she is now as a writer, but that approach fails most inexperienced writers who are not ready to post a new, and at best decent article, several times a day.
Craftsmanship in writing is slowing down your writing pace and learning to submit quality work several times per week rather than sending out too many weak and unpolished articles, resulting in getting read by more people before you increase your output
Volume writing, if it is quality work, takes years of mastering to achieve. New writers are usually better served by writing less, polishing more, and submitting quality pieces as they learn how to edit and rewrite their own work. Write less, and love your work more, and your readers will too.
Write for yourself
Most new writers struggle with who the target reader is for what they write so their work is often vague and too encompassing. We write too broadly, trying to please too many people, and the resulting work is a reflection of trying to make too many different readers happy at the same time. .
If you are a new writer, or you have been doing it for a while and your work isn’t getting the response you want, learn to write for yourself again.
Write what makes you happy, not writing to an audience you are trying to please because you are trying to break into a new market you haven’t yet mastered.
It is a strange exercise, but if you read a lot of the writers you enjoy most out loud, their work often reads as if it is a conversation they are having with themselves. They write as if they were talking to their own pictures on the desk, and it seems as if they are sharing a story they find especially interesting and just have to share with another person.
Strive for the naked sentence in your writing
Strip your sentences down to naked; you have to get past the funny underwear in your writing. Good writing is clean writing, and solid editing begins with stripping out the unneeded, the unwanted, the redundant and the superfluous. Good writing is naked writing, down to the fewest words you can write to get your point across.
My last book was rewritten five separate times working along with an editor. Each time, the manuscript shortened, became clearer, and read easier as what was not needed was cut. Five edits in six weeks left me with a book that was about twenty percent less than I originally submitted; and I believed my first attempt was clean writing already edited.
Slow down and enjoy the process
Every writer can benefit from slowing down, walking away from what you have written for a few hours, then rewriting it again…then rewriting it again.
Lack of patience is the enemy of the newly ordained writers of the world, and also of the experienced writer who creates but never contemplates; but learning to let a new piece sit until the following morning, then rewriting it again, will do more to improve your work than most writing courses you could ever buy.
Writing is like life; what have you ever gotten right the first time? The most powerful way to improve your writing tomorrow is learning to rewrite today, then rewrite it again one more time tomorrow before you submit it for consideration
Any writer can chase volume. Few chase the quality it takes to build a writing career developed slowly over time as you master your career.
Mastering the craft means you create writing people want to read, and editors want to pay for when they see your work.
Writing for a living is the mastering of quality over quantity and the experience it takes to know the difference.