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.