Learning to Edit by Helping Others

I just agreed to help a friend who is coordinating the Paranormal category for our local RWA chapter’s annual contest.

For those of you who aren’t regular readers at EtS: RWA is Romance Writers of America, a nation-wide network of local romance writers groups.

In addition to sponsoring monthly meetings and classes, most RWA chapters sponsor an annual contest, which acts dually as a fundraiser for the chapter and a way to get editor/agent attention for the entrants. Chapter contests are popular, fun, and damned competitive.

For me, as an unpublished writer, they’ve also been instrumental in improving my writing. No, I don’t mean by entering the contests.

I mean by judging them.

Your average RWA contest will have a certain percentage of unpublished guest judge slots, and for aspiring authors it’s well worth the time and effort to participate. Yes, you get the “happy-happy” feeling of helping out your local chapter and other writers who are looking for feedback.

But from a purely personal standpoint, it forces you to go into editorial mode. Now, published authors may feel differently – they’re working with plenty of deadlines, and they know their way around the editorial block. But I’m not in that boat yet. I don’t have the elusive agent, editor, and contract yet. And in my first couple of attempts at writing a full-length novel, I got tetchy when I tried to go back and do an editing round. Looking back over my own words was torture, it would appear.

Then one day I took the opportunity (read: got hog-tied) into judging a local chapter contest for a friend. Since then, I’ve been a chapter-contest judge for several different RWA groups, and a first-round judge for RWA national-level Golden Heart contest twice.

It gave me the opportunity to sit down and read current work by my peers. An absolutely invaluable experience, because it made me think about what worked and what didn’t; how to convey constructive criticism to the entrants; and how to improve my own writing from a technical standpoint.

When you see someone else writing a run-on sentence or running amuck with purple prose, it makes you stop and think about your own stuff. It’s unavoidable, you just do. I’m now a lot more comfortable making revisions, and figure it’s another step on the road to publication.

So I became an Accidental Editor by judging contests. And I suggest you do, too. If you’re not into RWA, Mystery Writers of America, or one of the other big groups, try helping a friend edit their term paper. Or resume. Or business email.

You can learn a lot about writing by helping someone out.

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