Want to improve your writing? This summer, we’ve reached out to other editors, and we’re putting them to work for you — in our new series, Writing Tips.
I’ve been writing since I could form sentences out of misspelled words. My mom, the ever-so-sentimental type, has saved the books I wrote about the birds outside my window. Over the years, those makeshift books and stapled together uneven pages eventually turned into a Xanga account, and eventually the Xanga account turned into blogging. Blogging turned into article writing, church curriculum creating and editing, and other paid writing opportunities. It was a long journey, but in every stage of my life crafting words has brought me so much joy.
Whether it’s writing for more formal settings (school or articles) or creative writing, putting together words has always been a form therapy, an artistic release of sorts. And over the years as I’ve connected with other writer-types, I realized I am not the only one who God made like this. But at some point, when my words started getting published in a more formal fashion, that specific transition was a difficult one. What was once art and creative expression had to be shaped uniquely for each publication. This wasn’t a bad thing, but for me, the learning curve was steep. So, when Nathaniel asked a few of us if we could give some writing advice, I jumped at the opportunity to share two of my biggest writing tips.
Although there’s all sorts of practical advice online on pitching articles, I still believe that there is no substitution for the art of good writing. And so today my biggest encouragement to writers wanting to get published is to work on their craft. Shaping good writing to fit into a publication is hard work. However, shaping bad writing to fit into a publication is next to impossible.
So here are two small practices that helped me sharpen my own writing skills:
1. Let your writing sit a little.
When I first started writing, I would get an idea in my head, let it simmer, and then the only way I could make sense of it would be to get my thoughts out on page. It was like there was an idea inside and until I got it out, I couldn’t rest. I’d sit down to write and feel the relief of having the idea organized into words, and then I’d hastily hit publish. Now, I almost NEVER publish writing or submit something that was written that same day.
One of the best ways I’ve improved my writing is to let it sit a little. I still sit down and creatively write to get my ideas out, but I’ve developed the discipline of editing my own work a day or two later. Practically speaking, this means that if I’m writing an article for another publication, I write the article and then let the piece sit for at least one night’s sleep (if not more). Then the following day I come back and critique it. I move words around and restructure ideas and sentences. I am honest with myself about parts that need to be removed, and I have more clarity because I’ve let the words settle. If time allows, I might go through this process two or even three times. However, the bare minimum is at least one round of settling.
For those of us who love writing as both a skill and art, waiting can be hard, but this practice was the single biggest factor in improving my writing and organizing my thoughts. And now, as an editor I can tell when a piece was written passionately, but the writer didn’t give it the time it needed to sit a little.
2. Read it aloud a day later.
On that same note, reading your words aloud after they’ve settled is a great way to see what flows and what doesn’t. Even better, if you have a roommate or spouse or friend who is willing to read your work, have them read it aloud and you’ll hear where the words need more work. I cringe when I hear my words spoken aloud by someone else (it feels too personal and I feel exposed), but having someone else read them aloud eliminates bias and the opportunity for my brain to fill in the gap with what I meant instead of what’s actually written.
Every writer is different, but these two practices have significantly shaped the way I write, and also the way I think about writing. Colossians 3:17 reminds us that whatever we do, in word or in deed, to do it for the name of our Lord. And so, as writers, let us work hard in our craft so that Jesus’s name can be made great. Let us shed any pride and selfishness, so that our words can be clear, beautifully crafted and poignant for the glory of God.