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Communications | Apr 6, 2010 | 5 Comments

[writing is a team sport]

[the sad truth: nobody is the best editor of their own writing]

I have a client who works for a marketing agency. He’s a great strategist and an excellent writer. But like everyone else in the agency, he’s usually running. A typical day includes multiple projects, all on tight schedules, all for demanding clients. And I’ve never heard this guy complain.

In fact, he’s so good at his job that I was surprised when he recently asked me to edit one of his sales guides. He had produced great content really fast but the prose still needed polish. He didn’t have enough time and decided that some fresh eyes might be a good idea anyway.

Technically, this is editing, but I like to call it “team writing.” That’s because I often restructure, rewrite, and rethink assumptions. This really works best for someone who has a degree of separation from the material. Yes, of course it also includes correcting minor mistakes that even the best writers make when they’re rushing.

After I sent him the revisions, my client left a nice voice mail for me. He mentioned that at several places in the revisions, he thought, “Duh! Why didn’t I write it that way in the first place?” That’s a nice compliment—my rewrites fit so well that the changes seemed obvious later.

Another example: a colleague asked me to help edit a research report with lots of data compiled by different authors in different formats and styles. The time line was just too short and the job too big for one writer.

I have a technical writing background, so I took the first pass at unpacking and reorganizing the (really) raw material and cleaning up the language. She started with the big picture, looking over all the topics and building a sensible table of contents. She also worked with the clients to get missing information and solve other issues.

When I was done, my colleague edited all of the chapters again, taking special care to ensure a consistent voice and conformity in the terminology. Throughout the process we chatted by phone or email, making decisions, thinking up new questions for the clients, and occasionally whining to each other.

The key was that we each played to our strengths, and could lean on each other when we needed to. As a result, we got the job done faster and with much less frustration.

More people are coming to me with their content and asking, “Can you fix this?” Or, “This really needs another set of eyes.” Or, “I can’t do this alone.” I’m happy to critically—but ever so politely—review the copy and figure out how to improve it.

Bloggers and writers don’t often have the luxury of an editor, so we just do the best we can–which should still be better (!) than average. But when I get the chance to team up, I take it. And I appreciate people who spot the occasional lapses in my own writing. They give me a chance to improve.

As I said at the beginning, nobody is the best editor of their own writing.

Do you do a lot of writing without any feedback or help? I feel sorry for you. Go ahead and complain in a comment below!

Author: Claire Wagner

I'm a seasoned freelance writer/editor and an enthusiastic community manager. I'm passionate about developing and sharing good content.

5 Comments

I’ve never had the luxury of an Editor. The closest I have come is reading my words aloud to another person. While one part of my brain is attempting to capture the pacing and inflection to communicate the words to my audience. Another part of my brain is critiquing the performance and suggesting a nip here and a tuck there.

It doesn’t work for the structure and flow of ideas, but it helps for the wordsmithing.

[Reply]

Nathan

4/6/2010

Nathan, it’s so great you mentioned reading out loud. That’s some of my favorite advice about writing. I still don’t understand how it works but it’s the best way to check for errors as well as style, or “wordsmithing,” as you’ve said. Thanks for such a valuable comment.

[Reply]

Claire Wagner

4/7/2010

It is definitely much more fun to write with another. Blogging can feel lonely and crowded. I read my writing aloud, sometimes to whomever walks in the room, sometimes to the cat. Other times I save it and return with a clearer mind, hoping to spot any obstacles to a clear message. Often I come back for visits with the words. Was it Degas with his paintings? –I confess I can’t always resist changing one last detail even after it’s been hung on the ether wall, but rather than blame it on a perfectionist streak or desire for professionalism, I lay all the blame on the spell of enticing words.

[Reply]

Susan

4/7/2010

Susan, you are so right about that compulsion to revise, whatever its source. You should see how many times I revise a supposedly finished blog.

It seems that my readers are not a bunch of complainers, either, but rather very resourceful people who make do on their own!

[Reply]

Claire

4/8/2010

One thing I loved about writing poetry – for me there was no compulsion to revise. I would write it, set it aside for at least 4 hours, change 3-6 words, then copy it onto the computer in final form.

Some poets revise their poem, as if they are trying to express an eternal truth. I don’t aim for true throughout time, I am for true to the moment. When writing of the emotional/intellectual impact on the author, it never gets more true than the first draft.

In a statement about the world, rather than a statement about yourself, the urge to rewrite is much stronger. I would imagine a strong driver is the urge to craft a perception that will persist for all people through all time. IMO this is an impossible goal.

I wrote a song parody for an event once. There was no urge to rewrite once I realized I was writing a 3 minute one time performance for a target audience of 25 people. Any job worth doing is worth doing good enough.

The theory I am wandering towards is: Choosing a reasonable size and timespan of your reading audience will guide the author to a more reasonable level of rewrites.

[Reply]

Nathan

4/10/2010

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