This summer marks eleven years in the publishing and writing industry and I spent some time looking at older samples of my writing. After reading through some older pieces, it was encouraging to see how my writing has grown, but also eye-opening to see some of the same “struggle areas” that are still present in my writing, but that I’m better equipped to fix these days.
As a quick overview, I was a journalism major and worked on the campus newspaper (staff writer, copy editor, then editor-in-chief) so my college years were filled to the brim with writing and studying writing and relevant theories. It was also a unique time to be a journalism major (2008-2012) as journalism programs across the country were already beginning to incorporate the necessary tools and techniques necessary to train writers for a digital landscape. Opening a Twitter account, learning how to create QR codes and shoot video to accompany a story were all things I learned in college…and even from my freshman year to my senior year, there were large leaps in how the news was presented and further leaps continued to happen after I graduated.
Right after graduating, I interned at a local publishing house as a copy editor and gained exposure to the book publishing world, which I fell in love with. I got married later that year and started an office job, so apart from my personal blog, writing and editing took a backseat for a while.
In 2015, I began writing my devotional series for preteen girls so since then, I have been involved with a mix of writing non-fiction, copy editing, line editing, and copywriting. At times writing has taken a front seat and at other times, editing has. Currently, editing is in the front seat.
So in looking at my writing and editing arc over the last decade, what are my most common self-edits?
More Focus/More Specificity
A lot of my early writing, while it might have contained a good idea, skimmed the surface…and stayed there, which is a fairly common problem in young writers. I spoke in vague generalities and shied away from making specific applications because I was either afraid to or simply didn’t see the opportunities. Now I’m better at seeing opportunities to go deeper or to be more specific when providing examples or illustrating concepts (since so much of my writing is non-ficiton, this is how it shows up). It’s also one of the most common things I point out to new authors when editing their work.
One of the ways you can catch this in your own writing is to re-read a section that introduces a new character, plot line, or concept. Try and read it from your reader’s perspective with no background knowledge of the story or piece. Do any questions come to mind? Any points of confusion? Answer those questions then in the text.
I hate a jolting lane change while in the car, especially while pregnant! I also dislike such a jolt in writing. This is one area that I’m constantly working to improve in my writing because I want my reader to have a great experience when reading my piece. I want to eliminate distractions and confusion, and smooth, logical transitions help with that.
In Lisa McClendon’s “The Perfect English Grammar Workbook” (a great resource for writers at all stages) she breaks down the types of transitions into a few categories:
All of these (and more) help your reader tie a previous concept to the one you are now introducing. Sometimes a transition just needs to be a sentence or two, sometimes it could need a paragraph. Regardless of the form it takes, don’t give your reader whiplash with your writing. Lead them down a smooth road with clearly marked exit and entrance ramps to your ideas!
My audience has changed
One of the biggest adjustments my writing has gone through has been a change in audiences.
- In school, I was mainly writing to other students
- My books are geared toward preteens and teens
- My current blog material is geared toward aspiring writers
Each shift in my audience has required changes in my content, and each one has challenged me in different ways. It’s forced me think about the needs and desires of really different demographics and how my writing can serve each of them. Have you put in the legwork to really understand your audience? Targeting your audience is not a one-and-done chore, but a facet you’ll need to check in with periodically.
One of the most helpful exercises I did was to build profiles of audience members and outline their needs, wants, and interests. I even had pictures of these audience members. While that may seem strange, it was so helpful to put a face to the person I was writing to.
These areas are common areas that all writers address from time to time. So pull out your WIP and look for areas that lack focus or having a jolting transition. Also take some time to evaluate if your reading is targeted to the right audience.
Your readers, and your future writer self, will thank you.
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