Everyone knows that exposing oneself to good writers – David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon in my case – helps define what you write next. Our brains are like sponges that output what comes in. If you want to write like a 19th century woman, read Jane Austen. Or if you want to write an inner city story, blitzkrieg your mind with The Wire marathons.
But what about bad writing? What about stories that are in need of a solid thorough edit? Stories that suffer from poor characterization, or weak plot, or too many sub plots that are never resolved?
I think these things can help a writer too. Not through reading them and moving on, but by engaging them in an editorial way.
For the record, this post might make little to no sense. I’m currently malnourished, starved, and the world is spinning from an inner ear infection. So bear with me on this.
Bad writing – we all do it. I thought of this because I recently tried a writing forum to get some feedback. It’s not exactly the best community to join. It’s mainly amateur writing, very amateur writing. Some stories submitted are not even stories, just dialog. Others build off clichés (or my favorite writing technique – Shyamalan style twists). This is not to say that all the writing is bad, but there is bad writing there. Engaging flexed different mental muscles to engage with the community. I had to edit said stories. I love it – and that is not sarcastic. I picked apart grammar (something I’m terrible with in my own writing to the point that I abandon it at times – as you can see in my vertigo post), I analyzed plot points and how they tied into the overall structure, how characterization was achieved and where it could be tighter or need more elaboration, when detail was too little and when it was too much. Bad writing is a whole other world of writing, especially when these things are combined. All things that I’m guilty of and that everyone does at some point. I’m guilty of at least one of these things in every rough draft.
By editing I saw a reflection of my own short comings. And I also got into the editing mindset to approach my own work. In my world, there is the outlining mind, the writing mind, and the editing mind. I’m totally unique in that regard. And I can’t simply move between these worlds, I need a push. Outlining needs to be set off by reading things, writing usually needs some music to clear my head, and editing needs to edit other people’s work to get the grammar muscles warmed up. A forum is a perfect place for this. WordPress has plenty of writers and work, but not the dense post after post of short work waiting for a line edit and critique.
I also found that it made me a better writer when working within an outline. I could see each sentence as a sentence rather than as part of an elaborate winding paragraph, page, and chapter. I thought of the details side by side with writing so I self edited as I wrote each chapter.
So I challenge you to go out into the fray and find writing that you think is lacking. Don’t reply with a few words on a few points, write down every point that is good, that is bad, and then – how to improve it. That last one I found particularly useful. It engages in a positive, community oriented, and creative way that a simple line edit does. It’s good on every end, it helps someone else, it helps you out, and it helps enrich the blogging community.