Freelance and Otherwise,
Must Edit and Revise

by Kathy Coogan

Dramatic, life-changing events inspire writers, freelance and otherwise, to write. So do daily humdrum events. Writing is what we writers do. It’s how we think and communicate. Some writers journal, some write letters, or in 2010, write emails, tweets and on facebook. But we write as sure as we breathe.

Having the compulsion to write lets us practice writing. Like a musician must play and play and play to improve, so a writer must write and write and write. But there is more to writing that just organizing words and phrases on the page (or screen).

The key to good writing, (some of which gets published, if you’re lucky), is editing. There are few writers whose first try is his best try. Sometimes your fingers fly over the keyboard like birds. But even birds occasionally leave behind unappealing nastiness that needs cleaning up.

You must read what you write as if it were written by a stranger; an evil, preposition-dangling stranger who wants to ruin you. You must always be ready to rethink, revise, cut and even, gasp, start over.

There is an expression, “Turn over a new leaf.” This antiquated suggestion refers to the act of turning to a clean, blank page when writing. Sometimes turning a new leaf, starting over, is not necessary. The writer must simply turn over the used leaf, facedown, for twenty-four hours so that all the flaws will come to the fore. Trust me. There will be some.

Perhaps you can’t spare twenty-four hours. You have a deadline, that wonderful indicator that signifies that you will be paid. Especially then, it is imperative that you look away. Do something else for a short time. Walk around the room, cruise the web for a recipe for perfect guacamole or pluck your eyebrows.

When you return to the masterpiece you WILL see goofs that you never imagined. Missing commas, confused tenses or preposterous modifiers will make you cringe. You will be relieved that you caught them before the wicked stranger aforementioned could. Your writing reputation is saved. And so is your article.

Author's note: Read my essay, Simple Sad September, certainly one of thousands written in the days after 9-11-2001. I must have re-read and revised this a hundred times before I submitted it and still I was surprised that I was able to sell this one to a daily paper. It is not a typical newspaper article. But 9-11-2001 was not a typical time.

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