by Bethany Jett @BetJett
Your writing is strengthened through editing, and editing other people’s work strengthens your writing.
All through school I wanted my papers to be perfect the first time, and rarely did I write a second draft. My undergrad nights were often spent hunched over a keyboard, writing a twelve-page paper that was due the next day. No time for proofreading. No time for rewriting. No room for error.
Which of course, is the worst way to write papers.
I hated the red ink, which translates to “I hated correction.” Yet this type of correction is something I now crave, and as Stephen King says in my favorite writing book On Writing, “The first draft is for you. The second draft should be for everyone else.” Apologies to my professors for submitting the completely raw versions.
If you want to grow as a writer, pay attention to the edits. Learn from your mistakes and don’t make them again. It’s the red ink that strengthens and grows our writing abilities, and by editing other people’s work, you reinforce the rules in your own mind.
After working as Web Content Editor for Splickety Publishing Group, I read through numerous short stories, and my own writing was strengthened. I’d like to share with you some tips so that you can self-edit your manuscript before submitting it, and be that much more likely to get an editor to say yes.
1. Start with a hook.
Grab your reader from beginning. Unless it’s crucial to your story, no one cares that your heroine is blonde or tan. No one cares about the backstory. Strong openings show tension, so jump right into the middle of your character’s lives and draw your reader in to their world.
2. Cut every non-essential word, including descriptors.
Some words to look for: just, so, very, anyway, well. Get rid of them!
3. Be specific.
Look for the words they, it, them, thing, we, she, and he. When you have the chance to be specific, do so. Instead of saying, “He picked it up,” say “Caleb snatched the vase.”
4. Show, don’t tell.
This is a big one. It’s such an overused “rule” of writing but it’s so easy to slip into a narrative. Anton Chekhov said “Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
5. Don’t repeat words that are close together.
This rule includes starting your sentences with the same word. If you scan your paragraphs, does each one start with “The” or “I”? Switch it up. If your characters are in a coffee shop, use synonyms—mug, thermos, coffee cup, tumbler, espresso.
6. Pace your reader.
Use punctuation and white space to control the flow of the story. Your writing should have a rhythm. Choose words that match the beat you hear in your mind as you write. If it’s a fast-paced section, use choppier sentences.
Break. It. Up.
If it’s a slower scene, use softer phrases and extend your sentences by making them longer than needed so that you are in control of the pace.
7. Utilize the senses.
Your reader sees the world through the eyes of the character (or the author, in the case of nonfiction). Open the rest of the senses…what does the barn smell like? How does the fabric feel against her cheek? Is tea warm in her mouth or does it scald her lips? Remind your reader what it sounds like to put your ear against the heartbeat of your true love.
8. Read your work out loud, then let someone else read it.
I believe in printing out your manuscript and reading it from a hard copy after you’ve worked tirelessly on it with your computer. On the screen, you may see zero mistakes. As soon as you hit print, they become glaringly obvious.
It’s also important to let someone read your work. Make sure this person will tell you the truth about your writing. I want to know if I’m being funny at the right time, if my jokes are “hitting,” if my pacing is good, and if I’m able to pull my reader through an emotional experience. This is what I’m looking for with my first reader. My second reader is my editor and I’m looking for correction with grammar and punctuation.
9. Follow submission guidelines.
There is too much competition and you’ve worked too hard to have your manuscript rejected because you couldn’t follow the rules. When in doubt, follow the standard: 12-pt Times New Roman font, double-spaced, with 1”-margins.
I wish you all the best in your writing journey!
Bethany Jett attended her first writers conference with a proposal and a prayer and left with the Writer of the Year award, an agency contract, and interest from multiple publishers.
Three months later, she sold her debut book The Cinderella Rule: a Young Woman’s Guide to Happily Ever After (Revell), which became a Selah Awards finalist.
Bethany is the Founder and Co-Owner of Serious Writer, Inc., and Vice President of Platinum Literary Services where she specializes in marketing, nonfiction proposal creation, ghostwriting, and developmental editing. Her love for marketing and social media led to her pursuing her Master of Fine Arts degree in Communication: New Media and Marketing. She also holds a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies: Behavioral Social Science and Humanities with a Criminal Justice minor.
Along with her speaking, writing, and graduate studies, Bethany speaks at churches and conferences nationwide at women’s and youth conferences and retreats, and her work has been featured in numerous publications including ChristianityToday.com, Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse Jr., SpiritLedWoman.com, crosswalk.com, SonomaChristianHome.com, ChristianMingle.com, the Rave section of The Orlando Sentinel, and Splickety Publishing Group.
Bethany is a military spouse, momma-of-boys, suspense-novel junkie who describes herself as “mid-maintenance” and loves cute shoes and all things girly. Connect with her at BethanyJett.com.