Is Your Story Well-Written? How Do You Know?
My Manager: What is obvious to you is usually not obvious to anybody else
The same question applies to Facebook, text messages, and any other written communication. Will people understand your presentation at work? What are you doing to be more clear?
Medium contains numerous articles explaining writing mechanics and automated tools, but how do you know your article is effective before you publish it?
Will the reader get your points?
Will grammatical issues be annoying enough to prevent them from finishing?
Is the structure irritating?
You can do only so much yourself. Computer tools have limits. You make subconscious assumptions when proofreading your story.
Whatever you have written can probably be better, without spending a lot of extra time.
Use independent proofreaders
What to do? You can hire an editor, read your article to friends, publish blindly, or do what I did - join a writers club.
People in my retirement community, The Villages, Florida, have formed over 3,000 clubs, including four writers clubs. So, I joined the Wannabee Writers Club.
My presence was a learning experience for everyone!
All members are established book authors, except me. I write articles.
A member reads a chapter for their upcoming book. Then everybody spends ten minutes offering constructive suggestions to the author about clarity, presentation, and grammar. Finally, everybody returns their printed copy, with additional suggestions, to the author.
Recently, I submitted my article on Wednesday via email for Monday’s read. I planned to polish my Medium feature article without deleting and resubmitting it. It will keep my original publication date.
One member wrote back later that day, “What is this article about? Were you a manager?”
I thought that the subject was obvious!
Apparently not. Based on her questions, I could see where I made subconscious assumptions. I didn’t want readers lost before they even started. So, I changed the introduction and resubmitted the first half to the club for the following week.
It was worse than I expected! I expected some grammatical and phrasing changes, but I was surprised at the number of unclear passages. Some require a major rewrite. I can keep the main points but plan to publish a revised version.
I will not change or delete the original article.
Using proofreaders will postpone your publication date.
For books, it won’t make much difference, but if you are publishing daily, you probably won’t have time to use a proofreader for most submissions.
However, it may be worthwhile for an important subject that is not time-sensitive. Our club meets weekly. I publish some articles between meetings but postpone important topics until they have reviewed the article, if possible.
Consider the reader’s reading platform
A narrative running ten or fifteen lines is quite irritating on a PC, tablet, or cell phone. Many people use electronic devices these days and never pick up a book, magazine or newspaper. I even get frustrated with long Facebook posts.
I usually keep my paragraphs between two and four sentences revolving around a single point, if possible. That means splitting paragraphs even though they are grammatically correct when combined.
None of the book authors ever thought about what it was like to read their book on electronic media. I read all of my books on a Kindle.
One author, Millard Johnson, gave me a copy of his book when I told him that I liked romance novels. By chapter three, I was so frustrated with the small print and manually holding it open that I bought a copy for my Kindle. It’s featured in my article:
How Many Stars? My Book Review Criteria.
Stars vary based on the reviewer’s interests, reading history & life experience. Sample/Fiction: The Heart Doctor by…
His reaction, “You paid for a copy of my book???” Well, yes - it solved my problem.
Story Flow and Reader draw
You only have the picture, title and sub-title to grab the reader’s attention. The first paragraph has to keep it. Then the remainder must support the topic, add new information, or promise more later.
Those should be mixed throughout the story. Five paragraphs of promises at the beginning won’t keep my attention.
I recently started listing the main point of each paragraph. Same thing with sub-headings. I asked myself,
Does every paragraph support the main topic in the title?
Do the paragraphs flow in a natural order?
If not, then you may have a “Click-bait” title, unrelated to the story.
One other point, are your sub-headings effective? Some readers scan through an article reading sub-headings. From that, they may decide to read the entire article in detail, or just certain sections.
I practiced by checking one of my old articles about hurricanes. One of my sub-headings was worthless, dull, gave no clue about the upcoming section.
Before: My first exposure
After: My shocking teenage exposure to a hurricane’s destructiveness
My first exposure to what? I changed it immediately.
That’s a nice thing about electronic publishing. You can go back and fix errors. With a printed book, the errors will be there forever, or until the next edition.
Medium contains numerous articles offering writing tips. A Google search will give you a few thousand more.
I use mainly Grammarly and the Hemingway Editor to check spelling, sentence structure, and word usage. I run all weekly submissions from other authors in my writers' club through Grammarly. The app is obsessed with commas! It always wants to add them and take them out.
Checking section headings & key sentences
I use the Headline Analyzer from Advanced Marketing Institute to analyze the emotional draw of my titles and sub-titles. Recently, I’ve started using it to check section headings and individual sentences, not all sentences, but key concepts.
Does your writing style draw the reader in?
Have the Medium editor read your story back to you. Sit back and listen. Don’t read the text while it is being read to you. Don’t try to fix it immediately. Does it flow nicely?
Later, I made a second pass on this article and fixed a few places that didn’t sound right. I fixed more areas than I expected.
I do the same with text from other platforms besides Medium. I maintain an open draft just for that purpose, copying and pasting new text on top of the old. Then I fix the entry in the other platform.
How much revision time?
You can revise forever, but that is just another form of procrastination.
When I was designing computer software systems, I used a percentage of the program coding time to predict testing and other tasks. I use the same concept and compute a percentage of the first draft time to limit my revision time. To devote additional time, I must have a good reason.
The percentage of draft time devoted to revision depends on how you write the first draft.
Some writers fly through their first draft and spend most of their time, maybe two or three times their draft time, revising. I write and revise as I go. For me, 50 percent of my draft time is a reasonable limit.
Everyone is different. You can work out your own percentage based on your experience. It doesn’t have to be exact, just a guideline to prevent procrastination. If you don’t do that, you may never publish.
You can review and revise forever. At some point, you must decide that the article is “good enough” and publish.
After all, nothing counts until you publish your story.