Better Writing: When in Doubt

Sep 10, 2019 | Better Writing

It’s not quite writer’s block, but it’s close. You’ve been working on a blog post or something longer for a while. You know it’s okay, but you feel like it could be better. When that happens, try one of these eight things.

Let It Rest

The best way to see your own writing with fresh eyes is to put it away for a while, then look at it again. Some writers put the first draft of their book away for months. When they look at it again, it’s like they’re looking at someone else’s work.

Usually, the longer you put something away, the fresher you are when you come back to it. You may not have the luxury of lots of time. No problem. Let your piece rest for as long as you’ve got. Do something else while the piece is resting. Then come back and see it with fresh eyes.

Read It Aloud

Reading your work aloud is one of the best ways to find ways to improve it. We write for the ear. Your tongue will trip over things that look perfectly fine on the page. Read your work aloud. Then make it better.

Revise It Again

Sometimes all you need to do is just dive into the editing and revising process. If so, don’t wait. Start revising and see if you make things better.

Go for A Walk

Many great writers and thinkers take a walk to sort out writing problems. Nietzsche said that the only worthwhile ideas were the ones that come from walking. There’s no reason you can’t be a great writer or thinker, too. Take a walk.

If you can, walk where you don’t have to watch for traffic, pedestrians, and walk signs. Walking in nature is best. Don’t listen to an audiobook or even music. Don’t walk with anyone else. Put your body on autopilot, walk, and leave your mind free. It will naturally circle back to what you’re working on and start throwing ideas your way. Make sure you have a way to capture those ideas.

Subject, Predicate, Subject, Predicate

Try rewriting your piece using only simple sentences. That forces you to reconstruct your material in the most understandable form possible. The challenge forces you to handle your material in a new way.

Give Your Material to A 15-Year-Old to Read

I love having teenagers read my stuff. They are smart and educated enough to understand anything I’ve got to say. They’re also fearless about telling me what they think is good and what they think is bad. They’ll also share ways you can improve your piece.

Warning. Be ready for some tough criticism.

Remove the First Paragraph

Most of us, even professionals, take a long time to wind up to think about saying what we want to say. Many times, just removing the first paragraph will make your piece stronger.

Take Out the Adverbs

Here’s what Stephen King said about adverbs:

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.”

Most of us use too many adverbs. Cutting them will make your piece stronger. In the process you’ll see other improvements.

Bottom Line

When you think a piece could be better, but you just don’t know how to fix it, try some of these things.

I know there are more ways to shake a piece into good form. What are some that you use?

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