When serving as a fiction judge for the Christianity Today Book Awards, the number one skill author Sarah Arthur looks for in a winning writer is great writing. The definition of “great writing” is, of course, subjective, but as avid readers and writers ourselves, most of us have a sense for what is mediocre, good, and great when it comes to storytelling.
One key to great writing is the ability to edit and revise your own work with fresh eyes. We can aim for great work by putting Sarah’s top five tips for revision into practice.
Some writing experts recommend writing a terrible first draft in order to quickly get your words on the page, leaving the bulk of the editing for later. This may work for some, but it can also build poor habits and train us to write badly from the beginning.
If we give the first draft our best effort, we will inevitably become better writers through our commitment to excellence from our novel’s first draft to completion.
The key word here is realistic. Being realistic involves making allowances for the activities and requirements already on our calendars, as well as building in extra time for unexpected events.
It also requires us to know ourselves and our work habits. This means taking an unsentimental look at our previous writing projects and how we managed our time, and planning accordingly.
When editing our own work, it’s easy to skim the story as we begin to memorize it subconsciously. Writers who read their work aloud will often hear clunky language, mistakes in timing, gaps in plot, and unrealistic dialogue long after they’ve stopped seeing it on the page.
Even while reading aloud, you may not sense a different voice for each character. Try reading in an accent, and see what happens.
Consider downloading your manuscript to an e-reader or printing it out on paper. This, too, shakes up our ability to unconsciously memorize, as we trick our brains into thinking we’re reading new information. A different format offers a fresh perspective on our familiar story and its language.
Revision is tedious work that requires intense focus without the creative freedom that accompanies the initial writing of our story. We’re no longer caught up in the creation of characters and plot points. Instead, we’re focused on the narrative arc, the flow of the language, and sentence level revisions.
Rewarding yourself with a special treat, a walk around the block, or a conversation with a friend can motivate you to keep going. Save your favorite playlist for revisions. Light your fanciest scented candle. Order takeout as a reward for finishing. Think about what motivates you, and use it to your advantage.
In addition to these five tips, Sarah also shared with us her specific guidelines for judging fiction. Want to know what she looks for in a novel? Click here for free access to our entire conversation with Sarah and take one step towards balancing the art of writing with the business of publishing.