How do you edit another writer’s writing? Not by following the Golden Rule! (“Do unto other writers…”) These editing tips will help you edit someone else’s writing and help you ask other writers to edit your own work — and the first tip explains why writers should avoid the Golden Rule.
Before the tips, a quip:
“An editor should tell the author his writing is better than it is. Not a lot better, a little better.” ~ T.S. Eliot.
Finding the balance between honesty and kindness is tough when you’re editing someone else’s work. You want to help improve her writing skills, and yet don’t want to destroy her confidence or crush her writing dreams!
Some of the following editing tips are from Get to the Point! Painless Advice for Writing Memos, Letters and E-mails Your Colleagues and Clients Will Understand. It’s one of those helpful writing resources you should keep handy – it’s perfect for when you’re waiting for your coffee to percolate or your husband to finish shopping for his suspenders.
Onwards, fellow scribes….
How to Edit Another Writer’s Writing
Ask what the writer needs and wants
This is why you should not follow the Golden Rule — because how you’d like to be edited isn’t necessarily how other writers want to be edited. Ask the writer what he wants from your editorial feedback. Don’t accept “Help me get my book published” as an answer! Ask the writer to give you two or three specific things to edit: flow, grammar, characterization, plot, theme, spelling, consistency, flashbacks, metaphors, the physical format of the manuscript, etc. This gives you something to grasp when you’re editing – and just thinking about all the different aspects of writing a book will improve the writer’s skills!
Know the audience and purpose of the writing
What is the point of the piece? Who is the writer writing for? Editing another writer’s work is easier when you know where the writer intends to go and who he intends to take with him. Stay focused on the point of the piece.
Be wordy when giving feedback to writers
This editing tip flies in the face of good writing advice: use many words when editing another writer’s work. “The extra words dull the impact of your message and therefore make the message easier to hear,” writes Elizabeth Danziger in Get to the Point! “If you want a person to absorb your criticism and learn from it, allow him to retain his dignity and self-respect.”
Offer specific editing feedback
Stay focused on what the writer wants from you. For instance, if she asked for help writing an introduction that hooks readers, then offer specific feedback on introductions. If the writer wants help with web writing and writing findable blog posts, then focus on search engine optimization.
Make sure your editing tips aren’t personal
“If your goal is to have the other person become a more effective writer, focus on the writing, not on the writer,” writes Danziger in Get to the Point! She suggests saying things like “Writers try to use the active voice more often than the passive voice. There are several examples of passive voice in your writing, such as….” Do not say things like, “You failed to write in the active voice! What were you thinking – don’t you know anything about writing at all?” This is obviously something you’d never say when you’re editing another writer’s writing. Right?
Try to discern between writing style and writing errors
When I asked a fellow writer to edit my ebook, he kept pointing out “errors” and then saying “Oh, but that’s just your writing style.” This didn’t help at all; it confused and irritated me. When you’re editing another writer’s work and can see they’re developing their writer’s voice, don’t poke at it. Let them experiment!
Wrap up your editing tips on a positive note
“Even if the person did a terrible job at writing, you can compliment the effort and time that went into the attempt,” writes Danziger. “Find something good to say!” Even the worst piece of writing took time, thought, and creativity. Honor that in your fellow writers — especially since you know how hard writing can be.
For more writing and editing tips, read 5 Signs of Bad Writing – How to Recognize Your Poorly Written Work.
And if you have any questions or thoughts on editing another writer’s work, please comment below!