There is a reason the best creative writing instructors form peer review groups. A student joins a class to “learn how to write better,” usually not realizing that in order to “be better,” you have to put your own notebook down and look over someone else’s.
The key to successful writing is remembering there is always room to improve; you can always become a better writer than you think you are right now. Refining that skill is a life-long process, and stepping out of your role as a writer and playing the part of an editor is one way to keep your mind ahead of your hands.
Here are three ways editing makes us better writers.
Awareness of Common Errors (and How to Fix Them)
When we limit ourselves to staring at page after page of our own writing, we start to gloss over the common style and even grammar mistakes we make. The one and only downside of reading professionally published writing is that you’re seeing the finished product, after it has been picked apart and reconstructed maybe six or seven times. All you see is the (hopefully) error-free work, and it’s easy to forget no piece of writing starts out that way.
Almost more effective than having someone else point out these shortcomings, seeing someone else make similar mistakes broadens our editorial lens and helps us to recognize common mistakes when we return to our own projects.
Shifting the Focus Off Our Own Work
Writing an original piece, whether it’s an article, short story, poem or full-length novel, is enough of a roller coaster. Going back and staring at the same paragraphs over and over again is like an elevated straightaway, then a downward plunge, then a slow climb—and repeat.
Editing our own work gets very old; exciting; then it drags us hopelessly along, either leaving us thinking we’re good enough to get published or we should just trash the thing now and start over. Taking time to close out our own documents and give our exhausted brains and eyes something new to look at is not only refreshing and motivating, but also beneficial for both the editor and writer.
Experiencing the Other Side of Criticism
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing, how many pieces you have or haven’t published, how many times you have or haven’t been rejected: taking criticism is hard. Every writer wants to believe the time and effort they’re putting into their work is making a difference, and when someone hands back a draft with corrections and suggestions clogging the margins, it’s discouraging. Often motivating, but still disappointing.
Probably the best way to learn how to handle criticism from someone else is to practice dishing it out yourself. Taking the time to read someone else’s work and practice giving feedback the way you would want someone to give it to you serves as a much-needed reminder that constructive criticism is literally in an editor’s job description, and you might be a great writer, but you’ll never be perfect.
Writing is hard; editing is harder. You won’t make it very far in your career if you try to maintain one without the other. Balance your writing with editing others’ work, and sometimes without even realizing it, your skills in both areas will improve quickly. It’s worth your time; you might even find you like it.
Image courtesy of Novel Revisions.