So, here are some ideas I have to start with.
I start with the assumption that people know about basic writing from high school. I'm not going to teach things about spelling, verbs, sentence structure, dependent clauses, etc. Sorry!
But I am going to highlight things that we editors constantly struggle with in people's writing. These include:
- Unclear writing. I'm always asking writers, "What did you mean when you wrote XYZ?"
- Long sentences. Break it up. People will lose your train of thought, get bored or distracted and just turn the page to see if the next article will hold their attention better.
- Unnecessarily complicated words and sentences. Don't try to sound intellectual, sound natural, write plainly. This is challenging for those who are theologians or have done professional writing or research theses.
- Cliches are easy to write, but boring. Try not to include them, make your writing fresh.
- Flabby writing. Write tight and you'll keep your audience. Eliminate extra adjectives, adverbs, and other unnecessary words.
- Indirect writing. Don't be afraid to be direct. Use strong nouns and verbs. Say what you mean, don't fluff around.
- Preachy writing. Many of our writers are also preachers in their ministries. It is easy for anyone to slip into that style, but it isn't nice reading. Personal stories can help
And then there are structural issues
- Start well. Jump straight in, don't fool around saying what you are about to say or talk about where you were when you had the inspiration for this article. Just start.
- Finish well. Don't dribble off and leave the reader wondering what your real point was.
- Stick to your topic. No rabbit trails. Make sure everything relates back to your one big idea for the article. A magazine article is too short for more than one big idea.
I've got some tips for self-editing too. Something I wish some people did more of before they sent their articles in.
- Don't just look for bad spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Look for the things I've mentioned above.
- Sleep on your article before editing it. It will be easier to see your mistakes in the morning.
- Don't be precious about your words. Sometimes your favourite phrase just has to go in order to make your meaning clear. Less words are often better.
- Don't edit until after you've written your first draft. Editing and creating are using different parts of your brain. You destroy your creativity if you let your editing self into the room while you write.
I've also found some tips about taking criticism. Some people find this harder than others and I need to remind myself that as I interact with authors. I'm wont to jump straight into an email and point out the bits that I didn't understand or think need rewriting, but I need to make sure I point out the good bits too and encourage the writers.
What do you think? Is this a good starting place? What suggestions do you have? What's helped you with your writing?