Caitlin Kelly

Writer and Editor

 
 
         
   

tips

   
         
    The Best Writing is Rewriting    
 
Take Good Care of Yourself
It Takes a Village
Someone's Life
Trust Your Gut!
Jargon
Getting Fired
Pain
Fear
Pleasures
Pitfalls
What It Takes
When the Going
Gets Tough
Intellectual Archeology
NoNoNoNoNoNo
NoNoNoNoNoYes
Interviewing
The Best Writing
is Rewriting
Use a Dictionary
Carefully Chosen Language
Inspiration...
Running a Home-Based Business
Quality Control
Coming Up with Ideas
Selling the Story
Reading
Paying Attention
Play Dates
Getting It
  "The best writing is rewriting"
-- E.B.White

Many people think writing is easy. The first draft, maybe! Only rewriting and editing turns most copy into the stuff others want to clip and keep, photocopy and send to friends. Who wants to admit that our deathless prose might contain flaws or holes, inconsistencies or errors?

But it always does. Which means every writer always needs someone who'll read or listen to their stuff with a critical but constructive attitude. It can be your room-mate, spouse, best friend, sister or anyone whose intellectual opinion you respect. The ideal first reader is someone who reads a lot of good writing, whether for work or for pleasure. Above all, your first reader must offer your work their full and undivided attention. They can't be too nice! You need them to point out, in detail, where they think your piece might be improved.

I've been making my living as a writer since my first year of university, but I still need feedback and input on my work. My first story for Penthouse, about a sailboat race, was also the first I had ever written for a men's magazine. My first reader, a newspaper columnist in New York, gave it the once-over. His GuyVision caught stuff I would never have noticed. Guys, he said, want to read about heroes and success. So my (accurate if negative) point that the boat I was profiling wasn't considered a front-runner felt like a more female take on things to him. Maybe not. But I was glad to have the input and, since I was writing for a male audience, made the change.

Another piece, this one written first-person about being a crime victim, was painful to produce. Yet, when I showed it to one person who knew all the details, he said it felt flat and unemotional, as though the experience hadn't deeply disturbed me, which it had. Writing about painful issues, if you're really telling the truth, is difficult, and it's tempting to gloss over the emotion. But well-crafted honesty makes your story compelling to others. I needed that objective eye to help me see what I'd left out -- not content so much as tone.

Historian David McCullough suggests reading your work out loud. He likens it to painters who look at their work in a mirror in order to get a different perspective.

And take your time. Never write in such a hurry that you can't give your copy at least several hours, preferably a day or two, to cool off.

Always read a hard printed copy with a highlighter marker or pen in hand to catch typos, grammatical glitches and places it just doesn't flow. Don't just rely on your spell-check and other software helpers.

Great writing is hard work!