Saturday, May 28, 2016

Stop, Look, and Listen

“Stop, Look, and Listen.” Everyone is familiar with these signs at railroad crossings, but those same words can also help you improve your writing.

Know when to stop. That’s probably the primary thing that separates beginning from seasoned writers. In the beginning, you sometimes feel that when you’re on a roll, you should just keep on going. But learning to know when to stop writing will help you write tighter and avoid rambling.

While it’s important to come to a logical conclusion, it’s just as important to say what you have to say in a compact way. Back in the mid-1990s, writing for the Internet caught many professional writers off guard. Many had been used to writing longer pieces for magazines, but the writing for Web sites required them to write short articles. For many, writing shorter meant working harder because they didn’t have to write as compactly before.

When you’re involved in writing an article, story, or book, do you take the time to look at the piece overall? If you try to do that while you’re writing, it can be distracting. Instead, put the piece aside for while. Doing so will give you some distance from it, thus giving your brain time to forget it for a while. Reading over your work at another time gives you some perspective—a chance to see the bigger picture. It’s then and only then that you’ll be able to tell if what you’ve been writing makes sense.

Join a writers’ group and listen to what the other members have to say about your work. It’s important that any group you join has a leader whose skills are more advanced than those of the members of the group. Only in this way will personalities not enter into discussions as much, thus resulting in more honest critiques. Learn to listen to what others have to say about your writing while at the same time learn how to constructively critique others’ work.

Of course, some members of the group may dwell on grammar and such. That’s good, but you also want to encourage feedback about your content, length, and style. The real purpose of joining a writers’ group is to improve each others' writing, not to massage egos.

Also, listen to authors by reading their work. Learn to read like a writer, being on the lookout for techniques that you can use in your own work. Really listen to the way another writer tells his or her story or the way they delve into a subject in their article. Most people read an article, for instance, without looking at who wrote it. You need to be aware of the writer and be on the lookout for other works written by the same person.

Pay attention to how other writing sounds. If you like the way a piece reads, read a section out loud to yourself or into a digital recorder. Then listen to it several times to pick up its rhythm and style. Really listen then try it in your own writing.

You might also consider taking a writing class to help improve your skills. If you’re just starting out, take a good foundation course in creative writing, for example.  But if you’ve been writing a while, take classes focused on the type of writing you do. An alternative is to attend writers’ workshops and conferences.

When you finally get your big break, and an editor wants to work with you, be sure you’re ready to listen. Don’t be defensive. Don’t be argumentative. Listen. Listen to his or her feedback. Most editors have enough experience under their belt to know a good writer when they come across one. Even if your work is a bit rough around the edges, a good editor will work with you to improve it. They want what’s best for you and your story, and good editors always have a vision for what your article, story, or book can really be. Listen to them and let them guide you.

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