How to improve your own writing by helping other writers with theirs
I’ve always had a good intuitive grasp of how to write well
As far back as grade school, others asked me to read over their essays before they handed them in. This trend continued through high school and university, and I still get asked by family and friends to look things over. Now I do the same professionally for fiction authors.
I’ve worked hard to gain more knowledge, not only for my own benefit as a writer but to better help others improve their writing as well. It’s a never ending process.
Writers should always be learning
Part of learning as an author entails reading. You need to read both within and outside your genre. The more you read fiction, the more you’ll pick up, via osmosis, the feel of what good writing looks like.
You also need to read about the craft of writing. Intuition and osmosis will only take you so far. Often, if you read a lot, you can tell when something feels off in the way it’s written. But maybe you can’t articulate why and don’t know how it could be better written. Studying writing gives you the knowledge necessary for that kind of analysis.
In order to improve your own writing you have to be able to analyze what works and what doesn’t. This helps not only in the creative phase of writing but also in the editing process.
Learning is incremental
No one learns everything there is to know about any subject all at once (or realistically ever). We learn in increments. Ideally we’re able to put those incremental learning pieces into practice, allowing them to become embedded in our psyche so they can be pulled out at will, or even better, applied unconsciously.
The act of writing allows you, as a writer, to practice what you learn. Often, though, we don’t see the flaws in our own work, even when we’ve studied the skills necessary to do so. We’re too close to it, too caught up in the story to see how we could write it better.
The challenges lie in finding objectivity and applying learned skills when assessing your own work. For many writers, both are an uphill battle. We remain blind as to how to take our writing to the next level. One way to do so is to hire a coach or otherwise find someone with more experience to mentor you. This can be invaluable in your journey as a writer.
Equally, mentoring others will up your own writing game
Have you ever helped someone else with a problem and after doing so realized you knew more about a subject than you had previously thought? Did it clarify your own understanding of that subject matter? Were you then better able to apply it to your own situation or work?
When I was studying medicine the residents used to have a saying, “See one, do one, teach one.” It was common practice for those of us training to become practicing physicians to mentor those coming up behind us. Even if they were only a few weeks behind us, having joined a particular service just after us.
Not only did mentoring others help them, it solidified our own knowledge along with its practical application. It forced us to think about what we had learned so we could teach it to someone else.
Christian Jarrett, prefaces a study review for the British Psychological Society, thus,
The learning-by-teaching effect has been demonstrated in many studies. Students who spend time teaching what they’ve learned go on to show better understanding and knowledge retention than students who simply spend the same time re-studying.
Writing is no different. Reading about writing only goes so far. Trying to apply what you’ve read without solidifying it in your own understanding is less effective than if you mentor someone else with that knowledge.
The more I analyze others’ writing in order to give them helpful feedback, the better I become at seeing how my own writing can be improved. I also apply the knowledge to my writing process with greater and greater ease.
In addition to the work for which I’m paid, I choose to mentor others where and when I can. I do so in large part because I strongly believe in the philosophy of paying it forward. But I’ve also come to see that I get nearly as much benefit from doing so as the person I mentor.
Don’t wait until you think you know it all
First of all, if you do wait that long, you’ll never mentor anyone. Second, unless you’re a complete beginner, there will always be someone who can benefit from your knowledge and experience.
Most important of all, your writing will improve almost as dramatically as that of the person you’re helping. Not only do you get to feel good about giving another writer a helping hand, you get to help yourself in the process.