Friday Speak Out!: Writing is Not Just About Putting Words on Paper

Friday, December 12, 2014
by R.A. Whitehorn 

When I started writing I thought it was all about putting words on paper. I have been to several writer’s conferences and I realize that getting the words on paper is only the first step. I have learned that you must write first, then you must edit… and edit… and edit.

When I joined the NaNoWriMo challenge for November I read advice that said to write without editing. I wrote for eleven days and finished my book. The editing phase has been different. I started by proofreading it. Then I sent it to my Mother to check for spelling and grammar errors. If you want someone to tell you how wonderful your book is, send it to your mother. She will make you think you can write well enough to write a book headed for the New York Times Best Seller List. Then you have to be realistic enough to send it to a beta reader that will bring you down to earth. My next reader is my cousin who has a PHD and teaches physics at a college level. He has colored my pages in red. He exposes my plot holes and helps me to see where things don’t make sense in the real world. This is where developing a tough skin is necessary. If I don’t learn from him then I am wasting my time asking for his help. Every time he sends a chapter back I close my eyes, take a deep breath and remind myself that his intent is to help me. Then I open the email and go to work fixing my problems with the chapter. Next it goes to my daughter who tells me to put more feeling into it. She helps me to remember to express on paper what I feel in my heart. Emotion is hard for me and I need the extra nudge she give me. When everyone is finished I will submit the book to my writing group for more edits.

Putting it on paper was the easy part. Letting everyone tear it apart has been a bit stressful. When I went to a writers conference this past fall I took an editing session. My brother offered to let the instructor use one of his poems for an editing exercise. I will never forget what the instructor said.

“You don’t really want me to tear the wings off of your little darling - do you?”

With that comment, I understood that editing was painful but necessary. I heard a conference instructor talk about putting in the work that is necessary to be a writer. His advice was simple: Learn the craft.

* * *
R.A. Whitehorn has written out of necessity for most of her adult life. She wrote three Bible Studies when she could not find the material she wanted to teach. Now she writes to keep her sanity. She wrote her first novel during 2014 NaNoWriMo. She has been married 40 years to a man who has been sweet enough to refrain from choking her to death as she went through menopause. When she is not writing she likes to crochet, knit and sing in the church choir.

Visit her website at


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Margo Dill said...

This is great advice! And you are right, you need someone to tell you what is wrong with your book so you can fix it and it can find its way in the world. And yes, you need a tough skin to do just that. Thanks for this post. Best of luck with that editing. :) (BTW, 11 days is IMPRESSIVE!)

Anonymous said...

R.A.--I'm jealous. I have done NaNo several times and each time (except for one year) I crashed and burned. This year I did a modified NaNo, with the goal of getting 15,000 words added onto a WIP and didn't make it until Dec. 2. Sigh. So when I saw you made it in 11 days, I was green with envy. ;)

Yes, we need a thick skin and we have to be willing to do that hard work (slashing pages and killing characters off) to make it the best it can be.

Good luck. However, it doesn't sound like you need it.

Karen Cioffi said...

R.A., no truer words for a writer, "learn the craft." I haven't jumped into the NaNo challenge yet. Maybe next year . . . or the year after. :)

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