Rough drafts are meant to be just that—rough. No one has produced a masterpiece on the first go. Beloved staples of the literary canon have undergone countless iterations, subjected to scrutiny and fine-tuning that some might see as insanity. One example of this dedication to perfection is seen—or, not seen—in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, which underwent almost 50 changes to the ending before publication. If you want to master your craft without sacrificing your sanity, here are a few easy ways to polish your writing right now.
Expand Your Vocabulary
Back in the day, teachers wagged their fingers and warned us of words such as “good,” “like,” and “very.” When spotted in student essays, these words—known as “dirty” to some and “forbidden” for others—would be scratched out or trapped in circles of red ink. While we’ve moved on from those days and no longer have to appease middle school English teachers, we still should ensure that we’re using the best possible word at the best possible time. Expanding your vocabulary beyond four-letter descriptors adds color to your writing, and reduces the need for any controversial adverbs. Turn this habit into a game by striving not to repeat the same nouns or adjectives more than once in a paragraph!
Mix Up Your Editing Style
In an article for students, Scholastic suggests reading drafts backward, starting from the last word and meandering back to the very beginning. This advice isn’t just for school essays—creative writers of fiction and nonfiction can use this strategy, too. As the article explains, this method forgoes any concerns about content in favor of spot-checking grammar and punctuation. If you’ve read your manuscript front-to-back until you went blind, turn your next editing session on its head by starting from the back cover.
Gauge Your Tone
Whether you’re writing a professional email or the next Great American Novel, you must find and maintain your tone. As nebulous as tone may seem, the art of identifying and sticking with it isn’t so bad. First, figure out your story’s narrator. Consider their relationship to the story—is this first-person point of view, or are you going for a third-person variety? Flex your acting chops and get into character. How would your narrator react to the world around them, and the specific events that propel the plot forward?
For email writers, striking a polite-but-firm tone is all about language. Avoid too many exclamation points, and be sure to thank recipients for their time. A bit simpler on the smaller scale, isn’t it?
Use Editing Software
Although stylistic intricacies often fly under the radar for editing software bots, resources such as Hemingway Editor and Grammarly can track errors and suggest improvements in real-time. Some of these apps dovetail with email-writing software and word processors, making it easy to identify issues as soon as they appear. If the idea of scanning two hundred pages of Times New Roman, 12-point font is enough to give you a migraine, save yourself the headache and let AI do the work for you. It’s easy, free, and will only help you grow as a writer!