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How editing others makes me a better writer

You know all that time you spend reading other people’s work? It can make you a better writer.

Everything from proof reading to content editing improves my skill. A couple years ago, I spent an intense weekend editing a manuscript for a friend who was on a tight deadline. When I went back to my day job on Monday, my brain felt as if it had undergone a huge shift, as if it had gone to boot camp and come back with new strength and stamina. I attacked my work with extra clarity and insight.

When we read and critique someone else’s work, we can see it in a different way because we aren’t close to it. This kind of editing reminds me of what I should do with my own writing and makes me appreciate even more the attention others give my work. It’s like reading literature to become a better writer but with a slightly different, more active twist as I mark up the pages with notes to the writer.

These are some elements I spot, and accordingly, can apply as I revise my own manuscript. Maybe you can use these as part of your revision checklist:

Repetitious content. With all the shuffling that goes on during revisions, it’s easy to repeat scenes or similar information in more than one place. This is one of those areas that’s easy for me to spot in other writers’ work, but difficult for them to see.

Clarity. As writers, we know what we mean, so it’s imperative that we have someone else read our work to spot anything that isn’t clear.

Symbols. How does the writer weave them through the story to support the theme?

Foreshadowing. I note these in the text so the writer can gets a sense of how the placement affects the movement of the story.

Chapter endings. Do they leave me in suspense?

Structure. How do the chapters or sections flow from one to the next? Does the book work as a whole?

When I edit someone else’s work, I don’t only note what doesn’t work. I also mark elements of the manuscript that are exceptional. I find that these are the parts that inspire me the most and remind me what is possible in my own manuscript.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks for these tips. Can you please elaborate on Foreshadowing?

    July 27, 2011
    • Hi Prem. Foreshadowing is a literary device writers use to add depth to their work by hinting at the theme of their story or action that will occur later. A classic example is in Romeo and Juliet when the two lovers say they’d rather die than live without each other.

      July 28, 2011

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