...Or Weaknesses to Avoid in Writing
Let’s say you send what you think is a great article to an editor and ask for a line edit. It comes back covered in red ink, and you can’t help but believe it’s a mess. That’s not always the case. Editing is a time-consuming, tedious job (not without its joys). Most editors (including me) wouldn’t even bother investing time in a piece if it were poorly written. So cheer up!
Often many edits show up on your early efforts because you are making the same, few mistakes over and over. Once these are pointed out, and you learn to avoid them, your writing will take off.
Watch out for these bad habits that suck the life out of your stories:
· Wordiness. Every word must count to make an article shine. Common words that can often be deleted without affecting the meaning are: and, by, of, that, the, to, which, who.
Search for these and delete every one possible. If your article is, say 600 words long, force yourself to rewrite it in 400 words. That will surely show you what to cut!
· Weak verb choices: Avoid using be (is, are, was, were, has been, There is, There were) and have as main verbs, wherever possible. Find concrete, descriptive verbs. Bypass using an “-ing” form of the verb (Use: she goes vs. she is going). Use present tense, or past. Avoid passive mode.
· Repetition. Avoid repeating a word in close proximity to its previous occurrence.
· Unneeded adverbs. Avoid ones that add little to the meaning: a lot, just, pretty, quite, really, very, well. If she was “pretty upset,” is that any different from “upset”? Sometimes, however, these adverbs are valid if your tone is light, dialectical.
· Clichés. Someone has said, “A cliché is anything someone else has already said.” Find fresh metaphors, similes.
· Lack of transitions. Be intentional about creating logical connections and smooth transitions from one idea/speaker/point of time /location to the next.
· Overuse of exclamation points. Avoid using exclamation points as much as possible. Use one per piece, at most.
· I. Avoid overuse of “I.” Use “my __,” “mine” instead.
Avoid weaknesses of all kinds! That includes ones inside you. Get tough enough to keep trying. Gifted missionary writer Elisabeth Elliot often quoted a verse I remember whenever discouragement threatens. “Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame” (Isaiah 50:7).
Achieving excellent writing takes time; it’s hard work. When I write an article, I come back to it every day or two to read it anew, as for the first time. I continue to make improvements until I can find nothing more to change. Then I send it to editor friends to evaluate. We often ask each other to “be brutal.”
Be strong in the Lord … and in your writing.