Sunday, April 27, 2008

Polish, polish, polish!

An editor told me recently he's been inundated by stories that aren't finished.
In the freelance world, an unfinished story is a liability to the writer. The more work the editor has to do to it just to get it to useable, the less likely the writer is to continue the working relationship with that editor. Of course, with freelance, you generally get more lead time because they realize you have other work to work around.
But in the daily newspaper business, unfinished work is bad. With deadlines looming, an editor is forced to either get the writer to finish the piece, or to finish it themself, or to shelve it and disrupt the front page. Or let it run rough.
The writer may protest "But I finished the piece! I even ran SPELLCHECK."
I'm here to tell you that like the AI commercial says, just because it looks done doesn't mean it's done.
Every writer has their own writing routines. But whether you put your byline on first or last, there are several steps without which your journalistic steak doesn't have its AI on. It's not even cooked.
1) Read it aloud. Does it make sense at this point?
2) Is everything in the right order, or do you need to do more cut-and-paste. I don't mean chronological order -- I mean, does it FLOW? Or is it all jerky, lurching from one paragraph to the other like a drunken tale?
3) Is there any duplication that needs to be eliminated?
4) Are quotes correctly attributed and introduced? Names and titles spelled correctly?
5) I recently noticed a piece that had a "there" where there should have been a "their." Any of those?
6) Do you go on and on and on? Would a shorter story be better?
There are other polishing routines. Here are some of the main ones.
Remember: polish, polish, polish!

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