A Good Editor Can Help You Be a Better Writer
I’ve always wanted to be a better writer. I’ll never forget the first time I turned in a story as a full-time newspaper reporter on the city desk of a daily paper. I had labored over the opening line. I wanted it to “sing,” as my journalism professor used to say. And I found the perfect words in a line that was both clever and informative. I was thrilled.
I watched my editor read my article, excited and eager to hear the praise that was sure to follow. But I was stupefied when he took a red pen to that line I loved and said, “Start the story here.” To him, the second line was the best way to open the story. I felt crushed. “But I love those words,” I wailed.
“If you want to be a better writer,” he cautioned. “Don’t fall in love with your words. And learn how to let them go to tell the story better.” It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.
Write for the Reader, Not for Yourself
That valuable lesson has served me well over 30+ years of writing. And it taught me the ultimate value of editors. While many harsh words have been said about editors — by almost everyone who has ever communicated with written words — there are just as many manuscripts, stories, novels, webpages and screenplays that would not have been published were it not for exceptional editing.
Writers like to hear themselves speak. It’s editors who sit in as the listeners. Editors strive for:
- Ease of reading
As we wrote last week in the 7 Secrets of Effective Editing, good editing streamlines the copy, tightens it up and ensures that the message you’re delivering is clear and targeted.
It’s Not Personal
Though it may feel like it sometimes, editing is not criticism. The only goal of a competent editor is to help you be a better writer. Making you a better writer also ensures that your readers are happy and informed. For example, when your editor has to read a sentence more than once to figure out its meaning, something needs to change.
The sentence either needs to be broken into more concise statements, rearranged for clarity or completely reconstructed. Extra words bog down meaning; editors cut them out. Grammar rules are in place for good reasons — not to punish or control writers, but to clarify sentences for your readers. Editors invoke the English rules of grammar and punctuation to make the reading experience delightful and easy.
Consider the Medium
When you write a script for a video, you can take liberties with clarity because you have the actors or graphics to explain your message. When you author a novel, critics and readers alike expect a certain amount of long, endearing, fantastic descriptions. When you write a letter or an email, though, you don’t need to explain personal references or phrases that you know your one reader understands.
When you write for the web, however, different rules apply:
- Sentences must be scannable.
- Paragraphs should be short with plenty of white space surrounding them.
- Headers must explain what follows.
- Punctuation must move the story forward, not bog it down.
- The inverted pyramid style used in news reporting is strongly preferred. In other words, tell the reader what to expect on the page right from the beginning.
Leave It to the Beaver
You can be a better writer and still enjoy your work, your play on words and your witty banter, even when you rely on an editor. Your editor may take out the superfluous, the non sequiturs and the errors. Your editor doesn’t want to change your writing style; only make it stronger. If you edit your own writing, you’re taking the chance that your assumptions about your readers weren’t wrong.
But the best writers allow an editor to chew away at their copy like busy beavers. The best writers wouldn’t dare publish a sentence without an editor first giving it a read. The best writers know that the best completed communiqués come from a heavy-handed editor with the best intentions. A good editor can make you a better writer.
As Truman Capote famously said:
I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”
The Ray Access team won’t publish anything until it gets at least one thorough, professional edit. Mark and Linda often give pages two or three edits to ensure their clients receive their best work. If you enjoy writing on a variety of topics and appreciate a good editor, contact us about a part-time writing gig.