In his book “The Great Shark Hunt” (Simon & Schuster), Hunter S. Thompson wrote:
“I’ve always considered writing to be the most hateful kind of work. Nothing is fun when you have to do it — over and over, again and again — or else you’ll be evicted, and that gets old.”
If that infamous “Fear and Loathing” curmudgeon hated to write because of how routine it can seem, you can too.
Just don’t hate it enough to never start doing it–or give up soon after. Then you’re depriving yourself of some of the very real personal and professional benefits it can bring you.
There are plenty of reasons you need a good editor–even if you hate to write and aren’t sure you even want to do it. Like anything else you do, it can be fun or tiresome; and if your editor doesn’t make it seem fun and challenging, you should find a new editor.
Think about how much time you spend each day using a computer or smartphone, and what percentage of that time you are writing already. Think about how much you’ll enjoy unlearning the drivel from your school’s English class–thumbing your nose at a dreary teacher.
Think of it as a game of chess in which you know you’ll win because you can think more moves ahead than the reader. Or even think of it as a shopping spree in which you’re able to constantly look at your past experiences before putting them back into the shopping bag and embarking on another spree.
Go ahead: keep hating to write, while you finish your first book and gain amazing insights into your own character and your characters’ characters. Travel and play and reminisce and experience the textures of countless cherished moments.
It’s what happens when you’re writing–and there’s so much more to it!
Keeping your language light and entertaining … celebrating the visual value of everything around your characters … being clear concise and compelling … staying in the reader’s head rather than your own …
These are some of the most important skills for a writer to cultivate. If everything you write isn’t constantly improving in these categories you’re easing into a rut–and away from any dedicated readers.
The most effective way to constantly improve your skills? Report.
Become your readers’ extra eyes and notice everything going on in your characters’ lives and intentions. Like a good reporter you should leave all the verbal underbrush and fluff to writers who don’t know this technique.
You already know you’re supposed to show and tell and avoid injecting yourself into the narrative (Hunter S. Thompson’s “Gonzo journalism” was a terrific style but only for Hunter S. Thompson). So do it! Report!
Notice and pass along what sings to you; slash and burn anything that doesn’t. Write like a reporter because reporters will only keep their jobs if they keep getting better and honing their reporting skills. That’s a good example for you to follow.
Legendary marketing guru Drayton Bird asks these questions when editing his own or anyone else’s writing:
1. Are these sentences in the right order?
2. Does each one advance the argument?
3. Do I need that – or is it just there because I think it’s clever?
4. Is there anything – words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs – I can get rid of?
5. Is there anything I can add that will help?
6. Am I going for the jugular with enough force?
Copy these questions and ask them the next time you write anything (be merciless with your answers).
Then when you’re thinking of using an editor, send the questions to him or her along with a sample of your writing and ask them to answer them. Or better yet ask a few editors and hire the one with the best answers.
Bloggers and content marketers are only human; they’ll sometimes try to eat their dessert first.
Front-loading your article with a point and then tap dancing through the rest of the piece without adding much relevance, proof or value might feel like you’ve gotten away with something.
It’s like putting all the exciting scenes from a movie in the trailer to attract movie goers.
But readers are increasingly demanding and jealous of the time they spend reading. Once they begin feeling short-changed they’ll simply move on. Without you.
Don’t be like the infamous prom date who flirts with somebody else after a dance or two. Give your readers the value and entertainment they want … up to the final sentence.
Readers will follow your narrative with sincere interest if you give them good enough reasons to.
And there are a couple of tested and painless ways to avoid short-changing your readers:
You could use an organizational or brainstorming tool like a mind map. I started using an visual outline as a planning tool decades ago and saw immediate improvement in the quality of my transitions, internal logic and structure. Or
Find an editor savvy and caring enough to make certain your blog ends as memorably as it started.
Many people write simply to try and do something productive with ideas flying around their brains like a plague of locusts
They are like farmers who enjoy nothing better than watering and weeding the fields they’ve spent their lives cultivating–row on row of jobs and family relationships and ingrained habits.
When suddenly they hear ominous whirs of random ideas and self-talk that blot out the comforting sunlight and raise questions that depend completely on complex variables and characters.
Unfortunately this plague comes with your decision to begin writing anything: unless you happen to be named Georges Simenon (prolific author of the Inspector Maigret mysteries) you can abandon any hope of rounding up all those ideas and releasing them one at a time.
Because even if you could do that there will always be another wave of ideas and critical editing decisions on the horizon.
“Is this scene or dialogue in the right place? Can I tweak its transitions or tone so it might work here? Or should I just leave it lay where God has flang it and cross my fingers?”
It’s a big reason many writers publish a book much earlier than they should: they want to avoid the plague of questions and related decisions they can see massing on the horizon and decide to harvest their work much before the proper time.
As soon as a farmer spots locusts massing over a neighbor’s field they’d call the neighbors to come and help wave the insects off the crops.
Consider yourself forewarned that a plague of ideas is about to obscure your cherished work; there’s still time to get the help you need to prune and channel and prioritize your waves of ideas.
Since childhood I’ve preferred being last in line. As a would-be Southern gentleman of course always for ladies, but for men as well.
Following everybody I’m sure we are going to the same place. I enjoy watching them interact with each other and our surroundings. It makee others feel special and allows me to be ready in case there’s a problem I can help resolve.
This is also how I edit books. Writers have enough on their minds without trying to please an editor. My job is to help writers discover and clarify their intent and make sure both the reader’s and writer’s goals are being met.
When looking for an editor try to find one with a sincere “servant leader” philosophy. Ask them how they work with clients and drop anybody who needs to be a know it all.
And while you’re at it, demonstrate how mature and skillful you are as a writer, Make your own work more successful by putting readers’ needs before your own.
Success at writing or editing (or life) is mostly about how clear your intention or purpose is, and how effectively you remain focused on it.
Hobbyist writers tend to lose sight of three important questions–“Why am I writing this, what specifically do I want to accomplish and how will I know when I’ve achieved my purpose?”
It’s easy for any of us to put off answering the first two because it’s so much easier and pleasant to day dream about the last one. Before even finishing the first rough draft we begin counting our avid fans and sales results.
But resist this temptation; force yourself to identify your intention and goal/goals. Writing, like any complex and meaningful project, is about reaching your goals without taking shortcuts. And there’s no more self-defeating shortcut than mentally celebrating the rewards of writing something good without actually writing it.
If you can’t be bothered to carefully think through your intent, then build the entire writing process around that “engine” you should do something else; you’re little more than a daydreamer.
This is another benefit of working with a good editor who can help you develop a muscular statement of intent.
He or she will help make writing your book an evolutionary activity as you grow into the kind of successful writer you’ve always wanted to be.
Q: Which entrepreneurs like to imagine they’ll get rich and famous without ever studying techniques or skill sets and without any expert advice or training?
The majority of authors are actually “hobbyists” who insist they can’t afford to hire an editor–despite every successful writer’s confirming the vital importance of having a quality editor.
The cost issue may just be a red herring for many writers. They’re often more worried about an editor undermining the sense of validation they get from calling themselves writers and practicing their “trade.”
Look at writing as your work. If you got a job would you insist on a leadership role despite your lack of any training and experience? And if you got that position would you insist on teaching yourself how to do your job on the fly without any professional support or feedback?
And some day being paid a good salary to boot?
Successful writing depends 100% on how well the author anticipates and satisfies their customers needs. Most readers won’t know you personally so they can instantly think of much better things to do than reading poor content.
Save yourself time and mental anguish–talk to at least one objective and seasoned reader as soon as possible.
Only then will you have a prayer of attracting hundreds or thousands of habitually judgmental readers.
Consider your carefully chosen new editor a terrific investment; they’re your best chance at succeeding.