The dance of writers and editors

The other day, as I was preparing an application for a copyediting contract, I started thinking about how I could stand out from the masses. I knew there would be dozens – if not hundreds – of other applicants, so instead of telling the person hiring how skilled and passionate I am about copyediting, I decided instead to focus on the relationship between writers and editors.

When I began freelance writing nine years ago, I got nervous to receive the editor's first set of comments. I wanted every article or piece of writing I submitted to be perfect; I longed for the editor to say, "Wow, Jessica, I didn't have to change a word! You get a GOLD STAR!"

I believed fewer edits meant I was a better writer and that, in turn, my piece of writing was the best it could be.

I was wrong.

How an editor taught this two-left-footed writer to dance

The first time I realized the power of the relationship between writer and editor was the first time I worked for a truly gifted magazine editor.

I submitted my first draft of the article, confident I had arranged all the nouns and verbs and adjectives precisely as they ought to be for a clear, engaging article.

Hours later, the editor returned my draft with her changes.

And, wow. I learned more by reviewing that editor's changes to my article than I did in the previous few years of writing. What she did to my story was magic. If I were a ballet dancer, it would be as though I had been given magical slippers that helped me jump further, spin faster, and kick higher. If I were a painter, it would be as though she made the colours brighter, the details sharper, the shading stronger.

She didn't re-write my words or make my thoughts more profound; no, the piece was still mine—my ideas, my structure, my message, my voice. But she enhanced the article, and with her magic ballet shoes, made my words and punctuation pirouette right off the page—clearly and concisely for readers.

A writer's best friend

Ever since that article, I look forward to receiving an editor's or copyeditor's feedback. Sure, I welcome the days when I'm told my writing is practically perfect, but those aren't the only stories I consider to be successful—and they aren't necessarily my most cherished pieces of writing.

Writers, you don't need to be afraid of what an editor will do to your words or how an editor will persuade you to change your story. Editors are on your side—they are working for you as much as for the reader! A good editor will smooth out the flaws, make changes that help better communicate your story, and, ultimately, make choices that will help you improve as a writer.

Sometimes, we get too close to our words. We can't help it; they are part of us. But thankfully, editors give us the boost we need to show our best selves when the curtain goes up.

Further Reading

Today, I came across an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education on exactly this topic.

Read Rachel Toor's view on how good copyeditors can "save us from ourselves."

Caribou Creative