During a conversation with my pitch partner Andrea from Be-Quoted a few months ago, we were discussing an article she’d successfully pitched when she revealed that she rarely reads her published pieces. As a result, I told her that I could build a case for my opinion that writers (new writers, in particular) should make a regular practice of reading their published articles. Now, while I will admit that I haven’t read every single one of my live articles, I still think writers can benefit from regularly reading the final, edited versions of their work.
Scrolling Twitter one evening, I came across some tweets from Julia Beverly, formerly of Ozone Magazine. She’s currently writing a book about the life of the late UGK rapper Pimp-C and has been discussing the process online.
As enthusiastic as she seems about her upcoming project, in the same breath Beverly candidly admitted that she more than likely would not be reading this book upon its completion. Merely revising articles can sometimes feel like a mild form of mental torture, so I can’t say I necessarily blame her for already planning to pass on reading her own book before she’s even written the last word.
I never read any of my ozone articles after they came out cuz I was so sick of em after editing 20 times. I doubt I will read this book lol
— Julia Beverly (@JuliaBeverly) November 8, 2014
Also I never read anything I wrote in print cuz I will always see something I want to change & it’ll just piss me off
— Julia Beverly (@JuliaBeverly) November 8, 2014
The reality is Beverly is a certified OG in the writing/publishing industry, so she can totally afford to give her published work the cold shoulder. But for less established writers, I feel there are good reasons to read those published articles:
It allows you to learn from your mistakes.
Based on the changes I’ve seen from my editors, I’ve been able to identify problem areas and even managed to make some improvement without having my weaknesses explicitly highlighted.
Once, I received a group email from editors who advised the writers on the correct way of citing images. I realized I hadn’t been doing it the right way, but that could’ve been avoided if I took the time to at least skim over some of my previously published pieces, or better yet, pay more attention to my style guide! In that situation, I got two lessons in one.
Learn your editors’ style.
Not all editors are created equal. That means that depending on who you write for, there may be little to no difference between the piece you submitted and the published article. Other times, the final article may not resemble anything in your original piece. It’s a delicate balance because you don’t want to lose your voice while trying to do the piece justice, but unless it’s your blog, an op-ed or a pub that has extremely lax guidelines, the publication’s voice and style ultimately trump yours.
This is why I think it’s best to try and pay attention to the editors’ changes to see what you can pick up on. That may mean writing “stuff” when you really want to write “shit,” or leaving out something you think is hilarious and clever (more on that later).
Read your published articles to enhance self-editing skills.
For some reason, I’ve taken quite a liking to adverbs, in particular, the word actually. This isn’t something an editor has corrected (that I know of), but after re-reading some of my previous blog posts, I am actually horrified at how much I use the word actually. (I did that one on purpose, though.) Looking at the changes my editors make has helped me develop a keener eye and I tend to catch a lot more of my own mistakes before anyone else does.
Take it as non-verbal, constructive criticism.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m always really uncomfortable with the whole editing process, so I’d rather see the changes made and learn from it myself than have the editor directly question something I wrote and ask me to make specific changes (which is unfortunately unavoidable at times). It’s like getting yourself dressed and ready to go out, then standing in front of a fashion firing squad of style experts. This probably means I’m a huge chicken, but I prefer it if they didn’t critique my outfit right in front of me.
It toughens you up.
Looking my published articles in the face is still tough, especially when I see a ton of changes after the fact. But it’s helped me develop a thicker skin to absorb the criticism and rejection that comes with writing. Sometimes I’m still tempted to hide under my bed in shame, but then I brush off the dust bunnies of doubt and pull my shit together and remind myself that this process is only the beginning of gaining another byline, which is the ultimate goal.
It keeps you grounded!
If it isn’t already obvious by now, this isn’t an issue for me, and I don’t plan on getting a case of the helium head any time soon. But I’m not gonna lie—just recently I wrote something SO clever that had me feeling like:
So imagine my ego deflation when I read the final piece and saw that my editor scrapped it. But I’m not mad, though. It’s her job and sometimes the most appropriate way to deal with an editor changing your work is to just let it be.
Fellow writers/bloggers, are these reasons legitimate? What are some other reasons to read or not read your work after it’s been published?
Let me know in the comments.