How writers can embrace being edited

The professional nitpicker is your friend—honest. The seemingly arbitrary changes and brutal hacking of your magnificent prose are purposeful. Here’s what you should know.

Editors are a writer's best friend

Editors are more than just a necessary evil; they’re a writer’s best friend.

Despite what can seem a contentious relationship, those objective, knowledgeable eyes detect and correct seemingly invisible flaws, helping your brilliance to shine.

Few of us love being edited, but writers can embrace the process by keeping these things in mind:

1. The reader is the primary beneficiary. There’s a hierarchy about what and whom the editor serves:

  • The reader. We’ve previously discussed the WIIFM factor (“What’s in it for me?), and editors can help writers target and frame a given topic for the selected audience. Beyond that, editors make sure text is concise, unambiguous and fluid, so it’s easily digestible—even supremely palatable—for the consumer.
  • The client. Who hired or enlisted the editor to review and revise the copy? Maybe a paying client such as a publishing house, possibly the editor’s employers, perhaps even the writer herself. In any case, there is an inherent, professional obligation to do the work thoroughly and dispassionately. That might mean “killing your darlings.” (Yes, we editors are linguistic hired assassins.)
  • The writer. Regardless of whether the writer recruited the editor, the author benefits from the editor’s expertise regarding the subject matter and the language’s intricacies and nuances.
  • The writer’s ego. Beyond “killing your darlings,” editors provide objectivity regarding clarity, self-indulgence and overall readability. The writer’s clever dollops are OK in moderation; editors ensure the final offering isn’t a tureen of honey and jellybeans, dusted with powdered sugar.
  • The editor’s own ego. Most editors, especially those with a journalism background, are assiduous about stepping back and making sure those preceding four personae are well served. Objectivity (including precision of language) comes with practice and repetition.

2. Editors can save your bacon. Because editors read for a living and because trivia retention is essential for job performance—as well as fun for most of us—we have a mental cache of information. Those little data nuggets can be the difference between a salient point and a writer’s sullied reputation. Get stuff wrong, and your credibility goes out the window. Trust in sources is paramount these days, and readers will remember.

3. Editors are almost always solid, seasoned writers. When you ask someone to edit something for you, is it because you both own pedigreed Keeshonds or you share a passion for spelunking? Nope—not unless linguistic acumen accompanies those elements. A good editor has the chops to distill a bloated, three-paragraph jumble to a bristling, one-sentence revelation and can transform a stilted passage into a sparkling turn of phrase.

4. Editors like feedback, even pushback. No, that is not a five-word typo. Ask your editor to track changes, or conduct a side-by-side comparison of the original versus the edited version. If you see something that looks amiss, pipe up. Either the editor will explain the change (gladly, in most cases), or you will have caught something that shouldn’t be published. The editor’s extra set of eyes will appreciate yet another extra set of eyes—yours. Again, it’s all about getting it right for the reader.

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