What do you do after your first draft makes the rounds of the generous beta readers in your life? You roll your sleeves up and revise. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past few months. As a longtime editor, I have a lot of experience moving prose from the “shitty first draft” stage into something better. But I also know that every writer needs an editor who does not inhabit her own mind. I’m critical of my own stuff, but I also love some of it—so I can’t truly look at it through an unbiased lens.
So. What to do? First, turn to the experts on my bookshelf. Here are some of my favorite books by writers on writing: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (if you are familiar with the book, you know I referenced it above). The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I have heard many people praise Stephen King’s book On Writing but have not yet read it.
A book I just read offers excellent advice for all kinds of writers: Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing. Pinker is support of “intuitive grammarians” like me who splutter inanely when it comes to explaining and labeling grammatical errors, yet know immediately when something is grammatically amiss on a page. While he appreciates E.B. White’s classic The Elements of Style, he dismisses some of the old, baffling rules espoused by White and others, which we were all taught to follow religiously in middle school grammar classes. And his first piece of advice to writers is: read. Read a lot of good writing and you will become a better writer.
Next on my own to-read list is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Second Edition), edited by Renni Brown and Dave King. Several authors have recommended this book to me and I see it referenced online all the time in various author forums.