Budding writers typically seek guidance and tips from those more experienced in the craft — much like anyone would do, no matter the field of study.
Two specific exercises I learned from others early on made a tremendous difference for me — read as much as you can, especially good writing, and always review what changes your editor makes.
Reading good writing exposes us to various forms of storytelling and allows us to learn new ways to share information.
It also helps us see how showing versus telling engages the reader and how brevity — saying a lot in a few words — and clarity — clear and precise explanations — best achieve the goal of communication.
Reviewing what changes are made in editing improves our technique and overall skill.
The goal is to avoid making the same mistakes over and over as well as to learn the specific style and preference of each publication and editor for which we write.
A writer’s reaction to the reviewing step helps the editor know if the writer has a teachable spirit or if the effort will require a high level of energy and convincing on the editor’s part.
It’s similar to how we deal with constructive criticism in all aspects of life.
If we are on the receiving end, then we can choose to react defensively with quick responses and determine we know best or we can listen carefully and take time to process what is being said without an emotional outburst.
The first response makes it harder for the one sharing the suggestions to fully explain and could result in the person hesitating to share future helps.
It also could mean a slower path to improvement in whatever area the suggestions are being made.
The second response allows for a follow-up conversation to ask questions, seek clarity and talk out the concerns.
It allows mutual trust to develop so both parties begin learning from each other.
As for the one sharing the constructive criticism, style and timing truly are key factors in eliciting the best response.
It’s important to select a time when the person isn’t exhausted, under a lot of pressure or on a tight deadline. It’s also helpful to block off time for a calm and lengthy discussion, in case the person has questions or needs to talk things out.
Surprising the person with a quick “do this” or “don’t do that” without providing the full context can create confusion and cause him or her to respond in relation to what’s in his or her mind at the moment.
It also helps to take time to hear the person’s explanation to better understand and to make sure there isn’t a justified reason for a specific action.
Rules, styles and policies exist for consistency, understanding and order, but sometimes adjustments should be made for a greater good — that’s where the prior conversations, mutual trust and depth of the relationship make all the difference.