Back in the glory days when movies about the exploits of newspaper people were all the rage, it went without saying that you needed an editor. Great classic films are filled with bits featuring reporters and editors wrangling over assignments, yelling at, manipulating, and threatening each other – and later, commiserating over drinks. Producers needed the conflict that an editor-reporter relationship brought to the storyline; they needed an editor as a plot device. But those movies also reflected reality. Writers creating stories for mass consumption really did need someone to give them assignments, to vet their stories, and to make them work harder.
The era of the Big Newspaper, of His Girl Friday and Call Northside 777, has given way to the Digital Age of content democratization, but a good writer still needs an editor. Whether you’re writing a book, old school journalism, short pieces for a website, a missive to a staff or board, or a script for a commercial, you want someone else looking at it before you unleash it upon your audience.
At base, an editor provides a second set of eyes, focused on spotting things you may have missed, or things you may have overstated, or things you didn’t make clear.Your best friend can do that, though. What an editor adds is a different perspective, an objective appraisal of what you’ve done, and the experience to help you make it better.
An editor can be a re-writer – taking everything you create, and casting it into his or her own style, and, depending on whether the “writer” is really a writer, that may be just what the job calls for. But in the best case scenario, a skilled, experienced editor should be able to help you think, help you focus on how to make your own words stronger, cleverer, clearer. A truly talented editor doesn’t just give you the fish. He teaches you how, so to speak.
The reason is simple: a good editor has experience as a writer, understanding as a reader, a critical eye, and the ability to help you understand what your writing needs to convey your intended message, and why.
If all you write amounts to personal tweets and Facebook postings, engaging the services of an editor may be impractical, ordinarily. Even there, though, you would be well-advised to self-edit; look carefully at your words, make sure they say accurately what you want, rethink, and rewrite as needed before you hit send. That would be more than adequate for say, your average status update.
But if your words are going to have substantial impact on your readers, or your business, or your reputation, or that of someone else, you want to make sure they have the right impact, the proper weight, a sharp focus. In such a case, using the appropriate words will be important, as will sentence structure, and length, and building in context. No matter how skilled a writer you are, you should consider what an editor can do for your work.
That is especially true if you’re not skilled or experienced, although unskilled and inexperienced writers sometimes let ego get in the way of learning the lessons an editor can teach. I’ve been on both sides of that issue at different stages of my career. All things considered, no matter how good a writer you think you are, you need an editor. A good editor will make your writing better.
And that’s just the short term benefit, the immediate upside to having your work improved right now. But working with a great editor is, to borrow a Hallmark Cards truism, a gift that keeps on giving. That’s because if you learn how to think more clearly about your writing, how to articulate your message more completely, then your editor will have not just made your writing better. He or she will have made you a better writer.
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