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The Writer's Compass » About Writing, Becoming A Writer, Critiques and Feedback » Writers Lost in Need of Finding

Writers Lost in Need of Finding

Yesterday I spent time with a friend, who is a writer, helping him rewrite an article. The problem was that a national magazine had asked him for an article about an ordeal he had faced with his health. When the magazine editor got the article from him, they reassigned it to another writer to rewrite according to the magazine’s “style.”

My friend hated the rewritten article. It no longer had his voice, although written in first person, and because the person the magazine assigned didn’t know my friend or talk to him for more details, the new writer had made up dialogue and events to serve the story’s theme rather than using the facts.

My friend felt he had two choices. Rewrite the article or pull it and refuse to allow the magazine to publish it. He had already analyzed what was wrong with the article as originally written: one, he had told more than shown; and two, he had told several stories with a number of themes rather than focusing on one story and one major theme. We tried several approaches to rewriting the article, including wordsmithing the original article that was submitted. However, since the publisher had assigned a rewrite, we felt we were missing what the magazine wanted by continuing to work on that original piece.

I finally came up with a solution: I told my friend to go through the article and to cut every line that wasn’t true or that he hated. Once he did that we could then go back and see what was left. We still had the skeleton with the format and style the magazine wanted, but now there was room to add the facts and my friend’s voice. The end result worked much better and my friend could see where to add more showing of his story and less telling, while being more focused on one theme, and it was more factual and closer to what was important to him.

Writers often get lost in their writing. They know what they want to say, but get tangled up in the words and themes and emotions and telling the “whole story.” It is difficult to see what’s wrong with a story when you believe you’ve said what you wanted to say.

When you find yourself confused or unsure of where to go next, or when asked for feedback, think about the following:

  • What do I like about the writing? What do I dislike?
  • Is this clear? How can I make it clearer?
  • Is it visual? Do I show what I’m talking about in metaphors and examples and by creating images?
  • Do I use specifics in describing events rather than generalizations?
  • Is the voice appropriate for the subject?
  • What is the most important thing I want the reader to take away?

While the answers are not the solution to every writing problem, the last question is one that every writer should ask themselves about everything they write. Focusing on what you want the reader to know helps to clarify what you write and the way you write it.

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One Response to "Writers Lost in Need of Finding"

  1. Sophia says:

    Couldn’t help throwing in my two cents, since I just phblisued a book on writing for publication (how’s that for self-referential? ). The two ideas that have helped me keep writing more than anything else are:1) Write every single day. Even if you’re tired, you’re busy, you don’t feel like it, the baby threw up on you, you feel uninspired if you sit down for half an hour or an hour or 2.5 double spaced pages every single day, it trains your brain to be in the habit of writing.2) Only write about things that interest you. This is easy for me to say as a non-academic, non-tenure track librarian, but I figure life is too short to waste a lot of time writing on uninspiring topics just for the sake of being phblisued. Also, pity the poor readers who have to sit through some of the junk that’s out there just for the sake of being on someone’s resume or to help get them tenure/promotions. If you write about topics of interest, then you do (as Walt points out) have something to say!I don’t think NMRTWriter ever took off as it should have, but your idea of a critique group is a good one. If you don’t have a formal group, share your work with colleagues, with people you have met online, etc., and be willing to give your comments on their work as well.