My advisor and I did over 30 rounds of revisions on my first paper in grad school. 30. That’s when I lost all hope and stopped numbering the drafts.
That’s more than 30 times he handed back my precious manuscript bleeding in ink. It wasn’t just red; it was a rainbow of criticism.
Then he told me I was his best grad student writer.
Like most people I thought that being a “good” writer meant writing perfectly. A “good” writer wouldn’t need to hack and slash at a manuscript. So how could I possibly be a good writer if it took over 30 revisions to produce something readable?
Because most of us have it wrong.
Here are 5 secrets I’ve learned about good writing:
- Hard work is more important than raw talent. Some writers have savant-like abilities to write impeccable prose. The rest of us work really, really hard. We revise. And revise again. And revise again.
- Feedback is your friend. No one likes to see their work criticized. Feedback is crucial, though. Others can see flaws you don’t. They have ideas that hadn’t occurred to you. So choke down the criticism with a big piece of humble pie. You’re writing will thank you. And remember:
- It’s much better to get feedback from friends than criticism from strangers. Especially if that stranger is a gatekeeper to publication. Of course:
- Not everything you write will be brilliant. It just won’t. Even famous authors have some manuscripts that just didn’t work. Good writers have multiple manuscripts. If one doesn’t work, shelve it and move on to the next.
- Learn what works. Revision will always be necessary. Feedback will always help you improve. But there’s no reason you have to make the same mistakes over and over. Learn from your mistakes. If you’re lucky next time it will only take 25 revisions….