Any of you who have editing experience can back me up when I say that it is a very tiring process, especially when the piece you are reviewing is poorly written. And while the perceived quality of writing is subjective, there are a few key indicators that it isn’t just you, that the writing itself is the problem.
Poor writing doesn’t necessarily mean bad spelling and questionable grammar. It can refer to the structure and style as well. When reviewing your work, or that of others, be sure to pay attention to the following things to see if the piece just doesn’t mesh with your preferred style, or if it really does need to be reworked.
Beginnings. Whether it’s a blog post, a short story, or a paragraph of copy, every piece of writing needs to have an opening line at the very least, if not an entire paragraph or even page. How that beginning is crafted can tell you a lot about someone’s writing skills. Weak beginnings cause readers to lose interest immediately, and they act as one of the most important parts of content.
Transitions. Transitions are when you go from one thought to another. They are what leads the reader from the end of one idea to the beginning of another smoothly so that there is a consistent flow to the writing. Poorly written transitions are jarring and they throw the reader out of the content, causing confusion and backtracking.
Syntax. Syntax is a tricky little beast. It’s more of an ingrained skill than one that you can pick up from studying. It’s the proper structure of sentences and words within them, and while it can sometimes be difficult to tell if someone is using proper syntax, there’s no denying when it is being misused. Poor syntax is confusing, jarring, and hard to read. I relate it to trying to swim through molasses.
Vocabulary. Repetition, lack of variety, and a penchant for either over-complicated or under-complicated word choices are all indications that the content isn’t ready for publication. While every writer has a style (that’s how Rowling was found out when she wrote The Casual Vacancy“), refusing to add a little spice to your content by means of a new word once in awhile can give off a feeling of laziness and amateurism.
Reading level. Reading level doesn’t just mean whether your content should be rated R or not. It means what grade level would be able to read the piece without difficulty. If the content is for a YA audience, then the language should match that. Just as there would be a difference between a blog post and an article for a scholarly journal. If the reading level doesn’t suit the audience, they will either lose interest because the content is too simple, or they will become frustrated because it is too hard to understand.
Punctuation. Surprisingly, punctuation can have a slot all of its own. When you see content that is written like this: “the wind HOWLED!! they couldn’t decide whether: to run or to stay in the cave?”, you know it’s not ready. Poor use of punctuation is a good way to see that the writer doesn’t have a grasp on the basics and that they need to do some more learning before they send anything else to someone for review.
Conclusions. Just like beginnings, there are conclusions to everything. Emails, lines of copy, short stories, research papers, and books. They all have endings, and while endings are never the same, and can be crafted from many different styles, how they are written can leave a reader feeling like they wasted their time.
Any one of these on its own can be a small issue that just needs some polishing, but when you combine a few of them into a single writing sample, it’s fairly easy to see that whatever you are reviewing requires some heavy edits.
The good news is that all of these things can be fixed with healthy doses of reading and writing. Often, I find that the best advice to give when handing back poor writing is to tell the writer to read more. Read pieces similar to what you are trying to create and pay attention to how they handled problem areas.
If you have issues with transitions, look at how other writers navigate through them. Pick up tricks and tools from other content before you take to the keyboard again so that you will already know how to fix your bad habits when they rear their heads.
What’s one of your worst writing habits? How did you fix it? Do you find that reading helps to make better writers?
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We all want to be seen as professionals, but with every Tom, Dick, and Harry claiming to be a writer, it can be difficult to stand out.
Tips like these can help you to build your confidence and to write even better. Of course, as always, take the advice that makes sense for you, and leave the rest.
What would you add to this?
So writing is your creative calling, your life’s purpose, your ultimate joy. Congratulations! You’re part of (in my totally unbiased opinion) one of the best groups of people in the world. You know it, I know it — and yet, your friends and family don’t.
After all, what’s so special about being a writer? Literally billions of people on the planet write every day. It’s a basic life skill, one of the first we learn. And as a career? Psh! You might as well steal a cardboard box from behind your local grocery store and get comfy on the street.
Let’s get this out of the way: writing is a viable career and meaningful task. Whether you do it professionally or for pleasure, you deserve to be taken seriously and to receive the same respect that other professionals or dedicated hobbyists receive.
That being said, there are ways to…
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Most writers submit something to a publisher at one point or another. Whether it’s flash fiction, a short story, or a fully-written book, we all split open our chests and bare our fragile, sensitive souls to complete strangers at some point during our journey.
And it sucks. No matter if your piece is accepted or not, the waiting, the wondering, and that moment you see an email in your inbox with the publisher’s name in it all make you want to puke when you think about it. The process of getting published is, if we’re being honest, pretty awful.
And that’s just on its own, leaving out the fact that everyone gets rejections, no matter how good their writing is. If you submit anything to anyone, there is a ridiculously high chance that you are going to receive, at one point or another, an email that inevitably starts with, “Unfortunately…”. And even for seasoned writers with hearts of stone, reading that word can make you doubt everything about yourself and your skill.
But it doesn’t end there. Often, even after you have waited months to hear whether or not your work was accepted, when they decline, they won’t offer any feedback as to why. How can you improve without knowing where you went wrong? How can you submit to them again if you don’t understand exactly why your story wasn’t a fit?
As you can see, it’s all one big awful experience that induces crippling anxiety, grows self-doubt, and chips away at your self-confidence.
But, in all its awful glory, there still lies a glimmer of hope. The faintest sparkle in the darkness when you finally get a letter that says your story was accepted. And that’s what makes it all worth it, right?
And who ever said finding the right publisher for your story was going to be easy? When you think about it, there are a limited number of quality publishers out there for your genre and type of story. Most of them accept international submissions. So you are competing with a very large pool of content from writers with varying degrees of experience. What are your chances of being published?
Let’s talk about that for a moment, and I’ll use a bit of simple (I promise) math to make my point.
In marketing, we determine the success or failure of an initiative by examining the conversion rate. For example, if we create a new landing page and the purpose is to get people to sign up for a newsletter, the conversion rate is determined by examining how many people come to the page versus how many sign up for the newsletter.
Say 100 people visit the page, and only 10 sign up (the other 90 visitors leave the page without taking any action). That would be a 10% conversion rate. Sounds pretty low, right? No! A 10% conversion rate is an indication of a highly successful landing page.
So, a 10% conversion rate is good in marketing, but what does that have to do with submitting stories? Everything.
If we scale it down, and apply it to a realistic submission process, we can say that to get a high conversion rate of 10% when sending in stories to publishers, we would have to get 1 acceptance for every 9 rejections. 9. NINE. Nine people saying, “Unfortunately, your story was not a fit…”. That’s a whole lot of rejections.
But that means it isn’t totally unrealistic to think that, even after getting 2 or 3 (or 8) rejections, you should keep going. Hell, even a 5% conversion rate is high, and that would mean that you would have to get rejected 19 times before getting published. And that’s only for one story.
So don’t stop. Don’t give up after you hear “No” once, twice, or even thrice. Make a list of publishers that you think are a fit for your piece before you even start sending out your work. Find at least 10, and work your way through it. Push for that 10%, because if you don’t, you might miss out on your chance.
One of the only things in the world that really has a 100% conversion rate is life to death, and it’s far to short to waste your time feeling bad because not all of your stories get accepted the first time, every time.
How many times would you submit a story before giving up? What rejection advice do you have for other writers?
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I have decided to start reblogging more, because there is a lot of beautiful content out there that deserves to be shared.
So today, I chose this; a sarcastically smart, and wonderfully witty take on the many of the thoughts that can run through a writer’s head on a daily basis.
Don’t take it too seriously, just sit back and enjoy a laugh while you sip your Friday morning tea.
What would you add to the list? What was your favorite one?
I am now 34 years old. To date, I have zero bestsellers to my name. Clearly it’s time to give up writing forever. I mean, what’s the point of dragging it out for another three or four decades before I meet my untimely demise?
If you’re thinking whether or not you should do the same, here are 34 reasons you most definitely should never write another thing as long as you live.
1. You’re over 25 years old and have never written a bestseller (other than the time your self-published novel hit #99 in a sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub category at 2:47 AM on Amazon).
2. You are X years old and you know that so-and-so author had Y number of books written by that age. Naturally, you have fewer than Y number of books.
3. An online lit mag with 12 monthly readers rejected the best story you’ve ever written.
4. Only 10%…
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