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How to Hear What Your Story Is Actually Saying

Exercises to help get your stories curated

Illustration: Kawandeep Virdee

After finishing a story, sometimes the question comes up — what can I do to improve this writing? You’ve taken a look at the curation guidelines and made sure to follow them. When a story isn’t curated and there aren’t any clear curation violations, often it comes down to the story’s clarity, structure, originality, and value. Ask yourself the following:

  • Clarity: Can I make this story clearer for the reader? How clean is the writing? Is it formatted so that it offers a good reading experience?
  • Structure: Does the story feel thoughtfully organized? Does the story feel complete?
  • Originality & Value: How fresh are the ideas? What value does this story bring for the reader? Does the story follow through on its promise to the reader?

You may run through these questions and feel like the bar is met for each. But you can likely exceed that bar. The better the quality of your story, the higher likelihood it will resonate and be received well.

What’s really important is not how you evaluate yourself as a writer, but how you evaluate yourself from the point of view of a reader. As Verlyn Klinkenborg shares in Several Short Sentences About Writing: “It’s hard to pay attention to what your words are actually saying. As opposed to what you meant to say or what you think they’re saying. Knowing what you’re trying to say is always important, but knowing what you’ve actually said is crucial.” Growing this capacity will significantly improve the quality of your writing.

Read your story aloud

It’s tough to see your story from the point of view of a reader. You’re familiar with all of the edits, all of the revisions, all of the thinking that led to the current draft. Still, distance yourself from these decisions and approach the story as a reader. One way to do this is to read your piece aloud to yourself. How does it feel? Does it read smoothly? Note any areas where the wording may be awkward. Note any areas where you might want to further flesh things out. Note any areas that could be structured differently.

“Knowing what you’re trying to say is always important, but knowing what you’ve actually said is crucial”

~ Verlyn Klinkenborg

Read the story aloud. Make changes. Read the story aloud again. You’ll notice areas where your writing flows and where it clashes. Your story will improve. It will become clearer, the structure will improve, and new ideas will surface.

Discuss your story with a peer

After you’ve taken a first pass reading the story aloud to yourself and making improvements, share it with a peer. Find someone whose opinion you trust, who you know would give you honest feedback. They may be a writer themselves, in which case you can offer this support to them as well when they are working on a story. This is a powerful creative collaboration. You will support each other in the practice of writing.

After they read the piece, don’t ask immediately what should change or what should improve. Ask instead: “What was the piece about? What did you receive from it?” As the author, you are familiar with what you’re trying to convey. When you have a peer read the piece, you become aware of what is actually received. As they share what they’ve heard, resist the temptation to correct their interpretation or offer further information. Resist the urge to point to particular parts of the piece. When your story is read, you will not be there to direct the attention of the reader. Your words will have to do this alone.

Compare what they notice with what you’re actually trying to convey. You will find areas that will need further emphasis or other areas that muddled the idea for the reader. You will receive specific insights to help the story’s clarity, structure, originality, and value for the reader.

Don’t ask immediately what should change or what should improve. Ask instead: “What was the piece about? What did you receive from it?”

Put these exercises into practice

These exercises will improve the quality of your stories and make them more valuable for readers. If your stories are usually curated and you notice your recent ones have not been, consider these exercises as a means to boost the quality of your stories and make them more likely to be curated.

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Creators Hub is the official resource for writing on Medium. You’ll find advice for succeeding on Medium, spotlights on thinkers across the platform, and inside secrets from fellow creators. We’re here to help you write better, post smarter, and connect with more readers.

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