Monday, July 29, 2013

Article ReWrites....

As a non-fiction writer, I'm always looking for ways to improve my article writing.... I write for several online websites and I've gotten to the point where I can get an 800 word article, essay, opinion piece or book review off in a day.  It has taken me at least 10 years to accomplish this feat and I'm still working towards perfection.

As I scanned my list of writer's tips I came across this gem but I can't remember where I got it....
I'm sure it was some website and I normally include the original place but this time it was not marked.  I think what I did was read the original article and took notes from what I learned so here it is.....

I have used almost all of these ideas to write my non-fiction pieces and they work wonderfully for fiction as well as non-fiction.

A List of Nine Strategies to Rewrite an Article

1. Write earlier. This teaches you what you already know and what you need to know. When I begged for more time on a story it was usually because I felt I needed more time to report, to understand the subject. "I need a couple more hours/days/weeks," I'd tell my editor. When I started drafting earlier, I began to see that the hole I needed to fill was already complete, but there are other gaps I wouldn't have recognized as quickly.  Revision doesn't mean more time, but rescheduling the time you have. Let's face it. Whatever time we have for a story most of us spend the bulk of reporting. After all, we're reporters. But there are ways to build in revision earlier in the process.

2. Hit the print button as early as possible. Computers are wonderful, but they give the illusion of perfection. To revise this column, I made a printout of the first draft, approximately 1,000 words written in less than an hour over two days. I began by crossing things out, penning in questions, examining the prose (which sentences held up, which need re-tooling, etc.). Then I read back over my revised version and made more corrections until it was perfect.... or near to perfection as I could get.

3. Put it away. John Fowles, the British novelist ("French Lieutenant’s Woman"), described drafting as much as 60,000 words and then putting them in a desk drawer for a few months. Nice work, I can hear the journalists out there muttering, if you can get it. Few working writers, especially those under daily or even weekly deadlines, have that freedom. But any attempt to put a story out of your mind will give your unconscious mind the chance to work on it. The idea of putting away your writing is works amazingly but most non-fiction article writers do not have the luxury of a few months.  I give this an hour, maybe six hours or even 24 if you have the time but it never fails...if I put it away, I always catch something I had not seen before and more ideas come into my head for a rewrite.  Giving the writing a rest does wonders to your brain and fantastic ideas come after some time away.

4. Break revision into manageable tasks. To me this is a no-brainer. Sometimes the sheer enormity of revisions is so overwhelming it makes my head spin. Make separate printouts — one for names and titles, another for verb constructions, a third to trim the fat from quotes helps enormously in keeping yourself on target for a finished product.

5. Read aloud. Listen to your story and you can hear where it flags, where a quote runs on or echoes the previous phrase (The mayor said he's dissatisfied with the council's action. "I'm just not satisfied," Mayor Naughton said). I read out loud to myself all the time!!!! Sometimes my children ask me who I'm talking to.  This idea is a great one for catching mistakes and rewriting sentences.

6. Diagnose, then treat. As you read, make quick notes ("cut," "move up?" "boring?" "stronger evidence?") Then go back and make the necessary changes. I once read that many writers will use different marks from the keyboard and colored text markings to go back and fix after reading through the entire piece first.  I have done this as well and the notes help to keep your ideas on target.

7. Test your story against your focus. If it's about a young woman's fight against cerebral palsy, why does it begin with an anecdote about her grandfather's experiences in the California gold rush?  Keep the focus on what is the main thrust of your piece. What drives your article and what questions does it answer? This is all very important.

8. Find a first reader. Editors are our first readers--and our last line of defense. Show your draft to an editor--or a colleague. Ask them to tell you what works and what needs work. Ask for a movie of their reading. Better to turn in something to an editor that we know isn't perfect with an eye to finding the promise and the pitfalls in it and the path to a clear, concise, readable story than letting the whole world see our mistakes. My editors have done wonders with some of my work and I trust them to help me improve my writing. 

9. Develop patience. When I begin to write, the ideas often flow in a flood, leaving the landscape obscured by mountains of impenetrable mass, uprooted trees, houses and everything else in its path. Instead of a tidy piece of prose, what I have is a mess that makes my spirits droop. I wanted it to be so good and instead it seems so bad that I fear I can never get it to  the point where anybody else would want to read it. I have to keep telling myself it will come if I keep at it and it does. I cut paragraphs, reword sentences, change my focus because sometimes my brain puts out ideas faster than I can handle and I have to keep my focus.  But with practice and patience, you can become a pro and write for newspapers, websites and blogs....

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