Back in 4000 BC, writers had to carve their words into clay tablets. They could be forgiven for not wanting to do much editing.
But in 2012, what happens to you when you've written an article, chapter or report and it feels wrong or "off"? Are you prepared to ditch the whole thing and start over? Do you need to?
I find that many writers are reluctant to undertake large, earth-moving edits of their work. Instead, they poke at it, removing an adjective here, changing a verb tense there -- hoping that by alchemy these minor changes will somehow lead to a major improvement. When that fails to work, they panic.
If this describes you, don't hit the eject button just yet. If you're heading towards a writing disaster, here are five questions you can ask to reframe the project and likely rescue a good part of your draft.
1. In what "order" have you presented your information? Is it chronological? This works well for anecdotes, but for other kinds of material it can be dull. Instead, try order of importance. At the same time, evaluate your logic -- if you've used inductive reasoning (going from the particular to the general) try deductive (going from the general to the specific.) Mix things up.
2. Are your examples, anecdotes and stories strong enough to carry the "weight" of what you've written? In the first magazine piece I wrote -- some 30 years ago-- I started off with a weak anecdote and then tried to hang my whole story on it. Disaster! Anecdotes need to pass a three-point test -- they should be memorable, interesting and on the right topic. It's a tall order. Just as you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince or princess, you need to discard a lot of anecdotes before you find the ones worth using.
3. Does the "size" of your subject match the length you are allowed? I've seen many writers drive themselves nuts by trying to write about World War II in 1,000 words. Guess what? It won't work! Your subject matter needs to be appropriate to the length you have. Pick "small" ideas for short articles. If your idea is too big (World War II, Shakespeare, Customer Service), narrow in on one small part of it. If you have trouble narrowing, then produce a series of articles on the same topic.
4. Do you have an idea or "force" that will help pull your reader through your piece of writing? There's a wonderful poem by Dylan Thomas called The Force That Through The Green Fuse Drives The Flower
I love that image of a "force" and think it's an apt metaphor for writing. You want your readers to be impelled through your work. One of the best ways to achieve this is to be very clear with yourself about the point you are trying to make. Can you express it in a short sentence? Does every paragraph in your writing somehow echo this sentence?
5. Is the most interesting, important material at the beginning? More people will read the beginning of your piece of writing than the end. Start with a bang.
If your piece of writing isn't working, don't accept it as The Way It Must Be. But don’t throw it out, either. Instead, reframe it. Make bold changes. That, after all, is why your computer comes equipped with copy, paste and delete keys.