Editing AdviceEditing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

A Good Editor Can Help You Become a Better Writer


Today, most of us find that we have to write more often than we thought we ever would. We are definitely not professional writers. In fact, many of us don't want to be writers at all. We struggle through English classes in high school, composition classes in undergraduate school, thesis work in graduate school. We write only when we have to write, wishing all the while, as we revise endlessly at three in the morning, that the project we're struggling with was already completed.

When we receive our degrees and go into the real world, we find that nothing has changed. Our reasons for writing became even stronger. We discover that the world in the information age does indeed run on words, words that constantly appear in team meetings, statistical documentation, projects, proposals, press releases, memos and letters, and executive summaries – the list goes on and on, and all of it is communication that is essential to our career advancement. We find that despite that technical gadget called a computer, we still have to be creative and learn how to communicate in the best manner possible. It all, of course, means more writing!

So what is a frustrated, overworked person to do? The answer is simple. If you want to become a better writer, find a good editor. A good editor can act in numerous ways to help you become a good writer. A good editor is a blessing, disguised in formatted red ink, lined strikeovers of your copy, and inserted, often weird, comments that help you discover suddenly what you really want to say and how to say it better.

A good editor can make you a better writer because that person will make you look at your writing from a different point of view. An editor sees your writing from a fresh perspective, and when you get your document back and work on it again, you suddenly find you are looking at your writing more closely. You will have to make some decisions too, which will also help turn you into a better writer.

You will have to decide whether to accept the editor's offered changes or keep what you had in your draft. You will have to decide whether you agree or disagree with the editor's criticism of your topic, your arguments, and your conclusions. In short, you will have to learn how to defend your document. In so doing, you will not only see its strengths; you will suddenly learn its weaknesses. Great editors in the publishing world, like Maxwell Perkins and Bennett Cerf, and most recently Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis with Viking Press, have worked on just these tasks, as they helped some of the greatest writers polish their masterpieces.

So when you find a good editor, what can you expect that editor to do? The following descriptions cover a few of the "writer" benefits a good editor can provide:

  • A mentor – a good editor is a helpmate, a cheerleader who will keep you writing, and despite how convoluted your work is or how complete, will offer praise and encouragement to keep you writing and rewriting.
  • An instructor – a good editor will teach by explaining the concepts behind the red typed changes and the comments to "re-organize" or "focus" or "stay on topic" or "clarify" or "expand." You will learn not to make those grammar errors you have always made because now you are beginning to understand the rules. You will learn how to replace the wrong word with the right word that really communicates the idea you have stored so precisely in your head, but can't get down on paper or the computer screen. You learn about the Whys of Writing, and amazingly, start to like the process, if not love it. Learning how to write clearly is a major high.
  • A second pair of eyes – a good editor looks at your copy with fresh eyes and without an ongoing headache (hopefully). One of the tenets of writing is to set aside a newly written draft and let it steep like a good cup of tea. An editor can see the potential of that cup of tea because he or she didn't brew it. That impression from the other side of the room is invaluable to any writer. An editor can see the flaws of your logic or point out the details that you missed. In doing so, your editor will speed up the process for you, the writer.
  • A devil's advocate – a good editor is not afraid to appeal to your artistic and creative conscience. A little like Jiminy Cricket in Disney's Pinocchio, an editor will be your conscience, play the role of lawyer, philosopher, and critic to help you evaluate your ideas and your logical, truthful, and even accurate expression of them. Whether you are off the wall, or on the beaten track, or arguing a unique point of view that needs clarification, an editor can give you valuable feedback about your creative ideas and help you find your true voice.
  • A personal organizer – a good editor will keep you striving to meet your deadline and help you produce the best product possible. Your editor will be a stickler in finding and drawing to your attention (sometimes a bit annoyingly) the silly proofreading mistakes you just keep on making, as you try to be creative, productive, and finished.

No matter what kind of material you want or need to produce, any time a person writes, input is vital. Writing is a solitary job. It can be a pretty lonely exercise to sit and stare at your computer or a blank sheet of paper while you try to pull the words out of your head and birth that marvelous idea you know in your creative mind was "just what you wanted to say."

Writers need contact and input, praise and disagreement. Editors can do that with great aplomb when they are good. Your editor is your creative partner, who after he or she has helped you to make the best possible impression with your writing, fades silently away until the next time help is needed. Where else could you find a better partnership than that?

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