Three Ways to Help Writers Hit Their Messages
Read Part 1 of this series, if you haven’t already, to catch up on a few of the reasons it may be difficult to find a direct path to becoming an editor. Part 2 covers the different kinds of talents you need to become an editor. And Part 3 (to come) will give you some ways to reach your goals.
To become an editor, you must be able to take a piece of writing that already exists … and make it better. While the purpose of each piece of writing may vary, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a blog post, a newsletter article, a short story or a novel – it’s the editor’s job to make the writer’s work reach its intended audience with the right impact or angle.
There are three ways in which an editor helps the writer succeed. These three levels of editing are based on:
- The writing project’s current stage of writing, per the writer
- The editor’s assessment of the project’s needs
- Ultimately, what the writer and editor agree to focus on
Become an Editor Who Offers Choices
Working with a writer can be a touchy situation. Writers are notoriously attached to their work. They’ve sweated over the details, wracked their brains to find the right words and poured their hearts into the writing. Criticism may even frighten them.
But approach writers with positive energy. You’re not there to destroy; you’re there to improve. Let the writer feel in control. And the best way to do that is to offer choices. Ask for a sample of the work and devise a plan to offer one or more of these three levels of editing:
- Developmental editing
- Copy editing
Developmental editing is a service usually performed near the very beginning of the project. Editors who can offer this service are in the highest demand because it’s a very specific talent. This is when you work with the writer to determine:
- Who’s the intended audience?
- What’s the purpose of the piece?
- What are the most appropriate tone and language to use?
- What’s an appropriate length for the piece?
- What’s the ideal structure for the writing? Should it be written in newspaper style, dramatic style, academic style or something else?
Delve into the answers until you’re satisfied that you share the same goals with the writer. Make sure she understands each point, because the answers to these questions greatly influence the writing. When the first (or second) draft is complete, you’ll be evaluating the writing according to how closely the project hits its goals.
At this stage, a complete draft of the project already exists. Your job as editor, during the copy-editing phase, is to ensure that the writing flows eloquently and logically from point to point, from sentence to sentence and from section to section. When the writing is good, you have little work to do, but when there are problems, you may have to:
- Question word choices
- Move words, sentences, paragraphs or whole sections around
- Delete words, sentences, paragraphs or whole sections
- Request more information or expanded content in specific areas for specific purposes, which you must identify and convey
The point of this exercise is not to change the writer’s voice necessarily, but to make sure the piece hits its goals as identified in the developmental stage. You also need to make sure it’s easy for the intended audience to read. The danger here is inserting your own voice – intentionally or not – into the writing. You aren’t the author, and the writer has her own style. But the piece has to work.
This level of editing is the least intrusive and the least time-consuming. It involves reading through the piece of writing, only looking for typos, spelling mistakes and grammar errors. You don’t have to be concerned with flow, readability or word choice. It’s simply a final check before the writer can submit the piece, either for publication or approval.
While there are professional proofreaders who do nothing else, to become an editor, you must know how to proofread. And you should offer this service, not because no one else can do it, but because with proofreading, you can offer the full range of editing services.
Become an editor who knows how to do all three levels of editing. Become an editor who knows which service to perform for each piece of writing and who provides the best service to your writing clients. And remember: editing isn’t just about making a particular project as good as it can be; it’s also about making the writer as good as she can be.