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Write For Yourself, Edit For Your Reader

editing penJohn Potter writes:

In this time of emergent digital publishing, writers have never been more empowered to write the kind of books they want to write. There is an audience for everyone. But are we doing ourselves and our readers an injustice by mistaking the potential of writing our kind of book, with writing for ourselves?

The two are a world apart.

It is inevitable that in weaving lines, story threads, characters and descriptions, we will
create a lot of padding: points of fact or observations we were determined to say, lines or moments we agonised over for days, descriptions or analogies laden with metaphors that dig deep into our very creative being.

The trouble with the padding is it was written for us, the writer. Mostly it's us working out what the hell was going on while we were writing; largely it won't now serve the story. Just because it's part of the blood and sweat that went into the writing doesn't mean it has any place in a finished book.

This is the difference between creating your story and writing for yourself. If we want to reach the widest audience, we need to realise the book isn't ours at all. It's the reader's.

Sure, there will be those that enthral at the padding and points you make. But if you embrace the padding and ‘your style', you will also lose a vast number of readers who don't want to be lectured or who feel frustrated by the drawn-out plot. Your overwriting doesn't mean the struggling reader just doesn't get your kind of writing, or the genre; it's because they're human. If your readers love romance, the paranormal or action, just like you, some of them will be with you every step of the way – the ones like you – but most people aren't like you. Why give up on the majority?

So, strip away:

  • The points of view that sound less like your character and more like you.
  • The excessive detail of your favourite place or analogies.
  • The excessive descriptions that make every brush stroke vivid.
  • The pages and pages of dialogue created as you explained the plot and characters to yourself.
  • The excessive hints and exposition that result in your pivotal plot point happening after the reader has given up.
  • Your mental imagery and leave enough for the reader to create their own.
  • The sentences that deliver a message in fifteen words when it could have been eight.

Do this and your book will have a better chance of appealing to all the readers of that genre and probably a lot more. A good read is, after all, a good read. You don't want someone like you to recommend your book to five people not like you, and the trail of recommendations to end there.

There is no need, however, to completely lose the original coveted version. Make a copy. Then as I delete or edit those most precious moments I quote the film-maker Peter Jackson under my breath: “That'll be on the DVD extras.” One day, you will be able to go back to that original draft and revel in everything you loved so much. When you do, you'll probably be very grateful you eventually realised that writing the story is all about you, but the edit is all about the reader.

Try this ALLi writing exercise by Max Hawker: Picture yourself as you pass through one of the doorways you went through today. Freeze this moment. Observe yourself as a character in a story. Describe yourself using all five senses in 250 words. Once finished, try and edit your description down, keeping hold of all the detail you feel is relevant to the reader.

Author: John Potter

Fully signed up writerholic, serial blogger, passionate indie publisher and author of the suspense crime thriller, Chasing Innocence.


This Post Has 10 Comments
  1. This is a great article that I think every author should read. I know how important this is as a reader and a writer. It’s more than necessary to just write and write your first draft so you can flush out your ideas however I recognize that so much of that is not meant to stay in the book.

    I’ve recently read a book whose author I think could have taken a hint from this. Their book says it’s about one thing then is filled with a completely different storyline that takes up so much space I wish I had known before because I wouldn’t have read it. There’s a lot of info-dumps that seem to me like the author thought was very interesting and clever but it makes my eyes glaze over and lose interest in what I was somewhat interested in.

    I think it’s a hard thing to write and write hundreds, thousands of words and then have to go through and cut so many of them away. It feels like wasted and lost effort BUT it has to be done. That’s something we have to accept as writers. It’s great that you’ve highlighted this in this article.


  2. Hello John: Excellent article and insightful POV. My e-novels are written for readers to enjoy their experience; to be entertained and informed.. Not as a preaching exposition of my personal priniclpals.
    Stay well… Warren

  3. Extremely good advice. Cut the personal unless it’s universal. Though there are times for being expansive in a novel. They are surprisingly few, though precious. So don’t cut to the heart!

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