Letter from Darlington: In praise of editors
Feedback on your written work can be hard to take. You need to get over it if you want to learn and grow.
I’m back up north this weekend in Darlington. I need to level with you. My wife edits almost every word published on my blog. It's all the better for it.
Sarah removes typos, sharpens grammar and tightens up sentences. She also calls out nonsense and suggests when I need to strengthen arguments or add detail.
We’ve reviewed each other’s work for almost three years. It’s a partnership that has made us both better writers. It has also resulted in cooperation on many projects.
Lessons in life and language
A writer's relationship with their editor is important. Constructive scrutiny of your work will always make it stronger. It’s a critical part of the creative process.
Steve Earl and I had a long time editing partnership through our agencies and various books.
As I write this I can hear his exasperation at my lack of English language education.
“It’s not a invite, it’s an invitation. Invite is a verb. Invitation is a noun.”
Sarah is the same. Sometimes it feels as if I missed key English language lessons at school.
“Use that for an object and who for a person.”
A good editor pushes you to improve and learn. They give you support and confidence. You need to listen to their feedback. More on that later.
The democratisation of media means we all need editors
The internet has democratised publishing. Everyone can be a writer. That’s a good thing but it has resulted in a decline in the quality of written work.
There’s another factor. Editing and sub-editing have been a casualty of the shift from print to online.
There’s no limit to word count and writers can publish direct to the internet. Standards have fallen.
I’ve already described the role of a sub editor. It’s the role Sarah plays for me.
Editors add a further layer of scrutiny. They seek justification for claims, scrutinise sources and check facts and bias.
There are publications that hold up high standards. These include The Economist, The Tortoise and The Financial Times.
There’s no room for emotion in editing
It’s hard to take criticism of your written work. It’s natural to have an emotional reaction when it’s critiqued. If you want to learn and develop you need to get over yourself.
Carol Blymire shared a thread on Twitter this week that trended. It’s the story of a hamster or rather a hampster.
Carol is a public policy executive, writer and professor in Washington. She reported overhearing a conversation in an open plan office. The young woman didn't react well to having her work edited by her female boss. This included criticism of her spelling of the word hamster.
A tearful conversation between the woman and her mother followed. The mother comforted the daughter suggesting she make a complaint against her boss.
Carol says the story highlights a challenge of giving constructive criticism. She calls out people praised by friends and family. Unfortunately it’s common in the modern school, university and workplace.
Machines as editors: Hemingway
If you want an editor that’s completely impartial try a tool called Hemingway. It takes its name from Ernest Hemingway, whose style was lean and stripped back.
The web app simplifies writing and improves its comprehension. It performs three proof reading tests to help lower the reading age of your work.
The software helps remove adverbs and the passive voice. It highlights words that aren't needed or where a simpler alternative exists. Finally it simplifies the structure of your writing.
Both Sarah and Hemingway have proofed this letter. Let me know what you think. We’re all learning.
Have a great week.
Editor’s note: Stephen adds errors once my edits are complete. He fiddles. It’s a habit. Ask Steve Earl.