All great writing requires constant work.
None of it and no one, comes by it easily.
Consistent tuning is needed to create that ‘magical story moment’ through your words on the page.
However, there are steps you can follow to help.
The steps of smoothing, refining, critiquing and editing are the essential mortar when you’re building your written piece.
They are what hold it together to form a solid, timeless piece that will last. Without them, your writing crumbles.
Polishing your lamp
Your work needs polishing at various stages between drafting and completion.
It’s a skill that everyone should have (not just editors, copywriters or professional writers), as it’s one that can make all the difference in the final result.
Doing it well can release the genie of brilliance from your work.
What was once hidden and trapped within clumsy, cluttered or rough work can suddenly become shiny, smooth and pleasant to read. But it takes time, patience and a process to get a great shine on your genie lamp.
Here are five possible steps (of the many you can take) to polish your work:
1. Word Exchange
You want readers to feel what you want them to feel. Look for how words are working. Are they doing what you want?
The word equine rather than horse adds to and changes the feeling of a paragraph. Chartreuse really is different to green. Perplexed is ever slightly different in meaning then unsure.
Choose words that add to your feeling. When going through your second, third or fourth drafts check how words are working. Exchange them for better ones if they’re not doing their job well enough.
What makes a sentence cluttered? Unnecessary words and phrases.
Redundancies also add to the mess. It’s normal for us to use redundancies in our daily speech, but when removed from writing, it sounds cleaner.
She stood up She stood
The dog sat down The dog sat
He climbed up the tree He climbed the tree
Carefully go through your writing, find unnecessary words and redundancies and highlight them. Come back later and rewrite them.
3. Passive voice v’s active voice
To persuade someone or make your reader ‘feel’ what you want, you need to use an ‘active’ voice instead of a passive voice. So what’s the difference? An active voice is when the subject of the sentence takes the action of the verb, rather than receives the action.
Active – He turned on the light and read a book
Passive – The light was turned on, and books were everywhere.
An active voice is usually much stronger.
What is it? It’s the flow and the rhythm behind the words your write. Read your work aloud and imagine there is a beat behind the words – then you’ll get a sense of cadence. Sentence after sentence with a similar rhythm, similar number of syllables and similar style can be boring. They can lull a reader to sleep.
Vary your cadence to keep your readers interested.
5. Trim down
Like an eating program, it’s wise to use portion control in your writing. Writing an outline, or a list of points to start and working from there, can often help avoid run-ons of words.
There are lots of ways to work through the polishing process – as many as there are to write.
The key is to do what works best for you.
It’s always easier to polish something that is already there (a prototype or vomit draft) rather than expecting yourself to ‘create’ and ‘finesse’ simultaneously. Therefore generally speaking, write first and then experiment.
Some people dread revisions as much as I dread first drafts. Personally I love the process of polishing.
But maybe that’s because I also believe in genies-in-the-lamp stories!
Your turn …
How do you polish your work? What approaches have you found that work?
Do some work better than others?