Rewriting: The Key to Being a Successful Writer

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Whether you write children’s nonfiction or Gothic romance, there is one talent you need to develop.  You must learn to rewrite based on editorial comment.

For some writers, changing anything in their manuscript is torture.  Others do it with ease.  Me? I’m somewhere in the middle.  

My first experience started with an article I read on rebus writing.  A rebus is a short story for pre-readers.  Throughout the story, various nouns are replaced by pictures that represent these same words.  The children “read” the pictures while an adult reads the text.  I wrote a rebus about a kite flying contest.

When the acceptance letter arrived, it hinged on one thing.  The editor wanted to change one character’s gender.  It wasn’t an important detail to the story, but I was curious so I made a call.  Ladybug’s editors strive to balance the number of male and female characters in each issue.  Sometimes that means making a change, and it was easiest to do in my story.  That made sense and I made the change with ease.

Other rewrites are a struggle.  In another instance, an editor asked me to add examples throughout my article and started the process to show how she wanted it done.  I had to fight the urge to cross her examples out and replace them with my own.  The examples that she included were so different from anything I would have chosen.  To me, they stuck out.  I showed her changes to a few trusted readers who couldn’t pick out her examples and actually thought the additions strengthened the article.

I took a deep breath and made the changes.  But I also learned to ask myself a series of questions when facing editorial comments.  Why does the editor want this change?  What problem does it solve?  How?

I write a lot of nonfiction and I’ve been asked to change specific vocabulary in a way that would make a piece less accurate, but I never just say ‘no.’  Instead, I try to figure out what is wrong with the original text.  Is something unclear?  Above the target reader?  Then I come up with a fix that addresses this situation and is still 100% accurate.

Rewriting.  Editors don’t expect you to make every change verbatim.  But if you are going to have a career in writing, you need to learn to look at what you’re being asked to do.  Good editors always have a reason.  Its your job to find a fix that works for both of you.



LuAnn Schindler said...

I've been lucky. Only have had to rewrite a piece once during my career. Editor made a simple suggestion and it strengthened the story, so I made the necessary changes.


I've been lucky too with my garden column. I'm a stickler though and never send it to my editor without first making sure it's perfect. I think she appreciates that. With my essays, it's been a different story. Edits were needed and I complied because I know I'm not perfect and don't want to burn any bridges by being difficult. I think you're right in that simple communication is crucial. And we need to remember that we're on the same page, (pun intended) both wanting basically the same thing: to produce a relevant piece of writing.

Great post.

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