“I before E except after C…”
“Eliminate passive voice…”
“Start in the middle of the story…”
There are hundreds of writing mantras we’ve all heard, and they always come back to haunt us as we pull out that ugly first draft and our trusty red pen to begin the editing process.
So, like we’ve done so many times before, we pull out the little mental pruning shears and start snipping away at what we’ve written, hoping to prune an adverb here and a run-on sentence there, striving for perfection.
But hold on!
Sometimes, snipping away with our mental shears is just a huge waste of time!
Sometimes what we really need to do is gas up the old mental chainsaw and start lopping off the big branches of our draft and really take the thing down.
What do I mean?
As authors, copywriters, bloggers – anyone who struggles with putting one sentence after another – we’re often way too quick to assume the first draft is close and just needs a little “fine tuning”, when in fact it needs a major overhaul!
Here are three major points to consider before you even look for the first hanging participle:
Does it Make Any Sense?
Is your piece written in a logical order? Would someone who hasn’t been living inside your world for God-only-knows-how-long have any clue what’s going on in this section of the piece? Does your blog post start at a reasonable starting point and carry the reader through to a logical conclusion?
If you can’t answer with a resounding YES to every one of these questions and thirty more I didn’t write down for you, you’ve got some major chopping to do.
If the reader has to stop to scratch their head at any point, you’re probably going to lose them. This is even more true online than off, but these days the average reader’s attention span is twitter-speed, so you’d better not confuse them if you can help it.
Does it Accomplish its Purpose?
Why did you write this piece any way? If it’s a short story, or a scene in a novel, does it effectively build the setting, portray character, move the plot? If not, why did you write it? Lop it off if it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do.
If it’s a how-to article, will the reader actually come away from it with a solid understanding of how to do what you’re describing, or will they still have a load of unanswered questions in their heads. If so, why’d you write it? You’ve got to fix it!
Obviously, the first thing you need to do, preferably before you even write your piece, is figure out and define exactly what your purpose is. If you’ve never bothered to do that, it’s not hard to understand why the piece seems a little pointless when you’re looking at the finished first draft.
Does it Reflect Your True Voice?
This one is a little tougher to figure because it’s not as black and white as the previous questions.
But, it needs to be considered before you start nitpicking the spelling and grammar because sometimes – and especially with some types of writing – stretching or even breaking some of the “rules” for the sake of adding your own personal flair to the writing is the best thing you can do for it!
Copywriters have known this forever, yet many of them still finish a draft and start pruning off valid conjunctions, fixing sentence fragments that work to make the point, and insisting you can’t end a sentence with a preposition! As if.
Now, if you can look at your first draft with open eyes and you can honestly say that it does make sense, it does accomplish its purpose, and you’ve even managed to say it all in your true voice, then by all means, put the chainsaw away and start snipping your draft to perfection!
This was a guest post by Justin P Lambert. You can get more from him on his blog, JustinPLambert.net.