Find your writing problems before editing

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about how to find your writing problems before editing…

Have you ever given a draft of your writing to someone else for feedback? If so, you may be familiar with the slightly sick feeling in the pit of your stomach as you wait for their reply.

And if their response is anything other than unreservedly positive, you’re likely to do one of two things:

  1. Think they are wrong, crazy, misguided and misled and totally ignore their advice. OR
  2. Work as quickly as possible to make exactly the changes they have suggested.

Of course, neither of these extremes is the best way to go. Never totally ignore negative feedback. The criticism might be slightly wrong-headed (or expressed poorly or thoughtlessly) but there is likely some germ of truth in it. Take some time to think and consider the tough words you’ve received.

But don’t go whole hog in the opposite direction, either. Writer and editor Nathan Bransford makes this point effectively in his insightful blog post, “When editing, start with the problems before jumping to solutions.” Here are the three reasons he suggests for using a problem-based approach:

  • Authors, not editors, are best-equipped to come up with the right solutions.
  • Starting with a discussion of problems helps you get to a deeper level.
  • A list of problems can help you identify common threads.

Here’s how he puts it: “If you take this approach, virtually all feedback becomes useful. Not every reader is going to see all the same problems, but when you reduce the responses to a category of problems even the zaniest feedback becomes helpful. You can discard the strange ideas and come up with your own.”