Write it down: Ode to our editors

Good writing doesn't just happen on its own.

The stories we love most result from inspiration, research, attention to detail, the willingness to revise and to edit until finally, they are distilled into near-perfect form. (Or perhaps until the writer is ready to let go.)

Good writing might start in one of these, or on a laptop. Most often it ends with a great editing session.

Any writer I know, have worked closely with or learned from would likely agree that editing is just as important - maybe more - than any other step in the process. I have such respect for the editors I've encountered along my career path. I'd count my mother among the first - starting in elementary school she'd insist I write and re-write copy if she found mistakes in my homework, and when my handwriting was illegible on the page. To this day, I have questionable handwriting! 

By the time I landed my first newspaper job in high school, then college, and for the decade that followed professionally, I became comfortable with editors running through my copy with a fine-toothed comb. As I type this, I miss that guidance.

As a journalist I had grown to love things in life I can count on -  that included the rules of grammar in the form of the AP Stylebook and the advice detailed in the late William Zinsser's classic On Writing Well or my beloved pocket guide, The Elements of Style by Strunk & White. Even with these trusty classics stocked in a writing arsenal - mistakes will happen.

Whether it's a class or volunteer project, a news story, or a business proposal, the watchful eye of an editor can always spot tiny typos, or the occasional missed or duplicated words that sneak into documents when a writer is interrupted by a phone call, unexpected office visit or assignment. It's comforting to know someone else is looking out for you, and for all your words, and thoughts placed clearly on the page.

An extra set of eyes can mean the difference between perfection and "oops, where did that extra comma come from?" So I've compiled a few notes on when to insist on an editor's watchful eye when at work - and what to do if you're sans a friend with a trusty red pen in the world of PR, marketing or writing:

  • Any writing project due to published and go to print should follow a formal copyediting process. From news articles to brochures, signage to ad copy - do not pass GO without calling an editor over to review your final copy.
  • Finally pursuing that dream of writing your first book? Not without an editor you aren't.
  • Any written copy that will be featured on Infographics, cutlines for photos, or other major design pieces, meant to online or elsewhere, should have an extra look before they are drafted with a mistake or two. 
  • Social media content moves so quickly that it often doesn't lend itself to pausing long enough for second set of eyes to catch it before tweets and Instagram posts go live. That means those responsible must create content appropriately, quickly, and then pausing to read, re-read and check it over to be absolutely sure all items are spelled correctly, links work and tags are properly chosen before hitting send.

What do you owe your editor? What is it like to work without one? Do you have a preference?