4 Key Rules For Editing a Writer’s Work

4 Key Rules For Editing a Writer’s Work

4 Key Rules For Editing a Writer’s Work
Photo by Chris Bevan

Four Key Rules For Editing a Writer's Work

As a writer and editor, I walk on both sides of the fence. I know that feeling you get when your own work is critiqued (or criticized) by others.

And I also understand the need to have a delicate balance between critique and support.

On one hand, if the editor is too nice, the writer's work won't improve, but on the other hand, if an editor is too harsh in her comments, she runs the risk of offending the writer and discouraging him from writing. Writers were meant to write, so discouraging a writer would be doing a disservice not just to the writer, but to the readers as well.

That said, constructive criticism needs to be given so that the writer can make the necessary changes to improve his manuscript. It's tough love. Without it, his work will suffer.

Here are four key rules for editing a writer's work.

Rule Number 1: Don't Remove the Writer.

There's a fine line between establishing grammatical correctness and sentence structure and maintaining the style and voice of the writer. While tightening the prose is an important part of the editing process, it can seem out of place if the writer's style and voice are not maintained.

Reading the writer's previous works, if any, will help you get a feel for the writer's natural writing style.

Rule Number 2: Be Respectful of the Writer.

When suggesting changes, give a reason for why you suggested them. Editors are very critical of other people's work (as well as their own), and are quick to make changes, but we must respect the writer when we make these suggestions.

Understand that writers, just like anyone else, have difficulty taking criticism from others, and be respectful of their feelings without sabotaging their career.

Rule Number 3: Be the Writer's Cheerleader.

Writing is a tough job. Rarely does it come easily, even to those who have been writing for decades. Rejection is hard to take and resistance is quick to pop up. Some writers may even want to quit writing.

Be the writer's coach and cheer him on to encourage him to keep moving forward. Tell him what he does well and confirm his strengths. If he doesn't receive the support he needs from his family or friends, then he definitely needs it from you.

Rule Number 4: Help the Writer Improve His Skills.

An important part of an editor's job is to help the writer improve his writing skills.

What is the most effective way to help someone improve his skills? Lead him, but do not give him the answers.

Helping a writer improve his skills provides him with a long-term benefit rather than a quick, short-term benefit. If we make the corrections for the writer, he may not understand the reasons for those changes. He may follow along simply because he thinks you know best.

Encourage him to improve by giving him suggestions on how to strengthen characters and plot and make him do the work and be accountable.

A great team has the power to produce brilliance. Maximize that opportunity every chance you get! 

Jody Calkins
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