You can read, read, read books, magazines, articles and how-to’s on your subject of choice but when it comes to learning to do something, nothing takes the place of doing.
There is something that occurs for a person when they actually perform the little and then big actions of a desired skill that provides as much or more “know-how” than spending a lot of time reading about it. Surely, one needs to read and gain the history, theory and other aspects but the doing is what gets it under your skin.
That is how I began editing: One of my superiors threw some written material at me and asked me to check it over. I started editing by doing it.
This applies to writing as well. There may be no subject in the world that is written about as much as the subject of writing itself. However, the most one will ever learn about writing will be while engaged in the act of writing.
This is not my big original idea but one that I have proven to myself over time.
Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I was a devoted follower of author Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and its guidance and writing exercises. I carried a dogeared copy of the book, a spiral-bound notebook and several pens in my backpack no matter where I went and I did those exercises,to become a better writer, daily for four or five years, filling up notebook after spiral-bound notebook. In doing so, I “wrote out” a lot of the clutter that can get in the way of clear communication. Writing is much easier now. I did it by doing.
This “doing” idea was summed up by the words on a t-shirt I saw while standing in line at a Starbucks in Venice, CA in 1993: “The key to writing is writing.” That seemed too simple but the big truths usually are. I didn’t get the full understanding of what it meant until I had been doing it for a while.
So it is with cooking, playing the piano, starting a business, editing a book, etc.
The key is to do a little bit and gradually do more and more. Don’t get upset if you don’t knock out a novel at your first sitting. Do a little and then a little more. Pay attention to what you’re doing. Sooner or later you will find you have a “feel” for the activity that you didn’t have when you started. You will be able to do it.
Remember to do: It’s the secret of good writing.
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Steve Wagner is a Los Angeles-based freelance copywriter and editor whose clients include American Songwriter magazine, The Hard Truth magazine, the public relations firm MWPR, in Burbank, CA and the diversity consulting organization Global Collaborations, Inc., in Houston, TX. If you are seeking a professional editor, contact him at swagner (at) writer-editor-etc (dot) com and he will be happy to talk with you about your project.