Coping with Editing

Tips for dealing with criticism.

Roy Peter Clark, Writing for
5-minute read
Episode #294

8.  Argue about purpose, not preference.

You will never win an argument with an editor or teacher who is dogmatic in approaching the craft:  “I hate stories that begin with anecdotes.”  Or “Readers never read footnotes.”  Those are not rules, they are preferences.

Rather than challenge those, turn attention to your purpose: why you introduced a new character late in a story or why you hooked the ending back to the beginning.

9.  Prepare yourself for tough conversations.

Everyone knows Mabel is a disorganized wreck of an editor; everyone, that is, except Mabel, who might be able to change for the better.

Diplomacy softens the blow of a tough conversation:  “Mabel, you want me to get my stories in by three o’clock so you have time to edit them – and I get that.  But then the story just sits there with no one working on it.  I could use that time to improve it.  What if we changed the time to 4:30?  That 90 minutes would mean a lot to me.”

10.  Become a productive critic of other writers’ work.

Editing another writer’s work can help you think like an editor and be more receptive to your own editor’s editing. So to conclude, here are some tips on how to be a good editor:

  • Ask how you can help the writer.
  • Ask when you can help the writer.
  • First tell the writer what works in the story.
  • Ask the writer her opinion on the status of the story.
  • Get to what needs work.
  • Don’t disguise statements as questions.
  • Help the writer find other helpers.
  • Ask questions about the writer’s process.

We hope these 10 tips will help you deal with editing, which can be painful for some people, but almost always makes your writing better in the long run.

This article was written by Roy Peter Clark and comes from his latest book Help! For Writers:  210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces. Help! is the third in a writing trilogy published by Little, Brown.  The first two, Writing Tools and The Glamour of Grammar, are available in paperback editions.  Roy teaches writing at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Editing image courtesy of Shutterstock.