OK, that headline’s kinda harsh. But it’s also kinda true. We editors are cranky people, and we have a lot of pet peeves.
Hopefully, you work in an environment where there’s a lot of interaction among writers and editors. But sometimes this isn’t the case, and a lot of factors come into play — whether you’re a freelancer or staff writer, your editor’s level of social awkwardness, the rush to meet deadlines, etc. And good writers, no matter their career level, want to improve their writing.
The bottom line is that newsrooms are shrinking. Writers are writing more, and editors are editing more. The editing structure has flattened, so fewer people are checking your work. Starting with cleaner copy can ease the process, eliminating much of the back-and-forth and getting your story ready to publish more quickly.
As an editor with some writing experience, I’m aware that self-editing is a challenge. I know what I want to write, so I can’t always see when content on the computer screen doesn’t match the content in my head.
But there are things you can do to warm your editor’s cold, cold heart. A good editor wants to improve your copy, and eliminating some of these habits allows him or her to look at the big picture rather than obsess over typos and grammatical errors.
1. You don’t review your work.
The simplest thing you can do to improve your writing is read (or at least skim) a story once it’s published, especially if your editor doesn’t have time to work through stories with you. Take a look at the things that were changed, and consider why they were changed. And like I said, self-editing is difficult. The best way to catch yourself doing anything on this list is to compare your raw copy to the final product.
A couple of months ago, my boss forwarded an email that our columnist sent him. The subject: “copy edits I disagree with in today’s piece.” No, I didn’t enjoy seeing my work critiqued, but I made an effort to step back and consider his points. I didn’t agree with everything he wrote, but he was right about some things, too. More than anything, I was thrilled that someone was paying attention.
And every day when I read his column, I think about that email and determine whether my changes are necessary or I’m just being a stickler. You might not have noticed, but editors sometimes obsess over style guidelines instead of thinking about the writer’s voice or what’s best for the reader.
My point: Your editor is probably doing things you hate, too. You know your beat, and maybe your editor is changing something in a way that doesn’t make sense. It’s OK to point that out, and a good editor will be open to a conversation. But you can’t point that out if you don’t review your work for edits.
Your editor is probably doing things you hate, too. But you can’t point that out if you don’t review your work for edits.
2. Your writing is repetitive.
So many writers don’t realize they’re using the same phrases over and over. (Maybe I am — please let me know.) Don’t tell me more than once that something “might just be” the best or that “not only” this happened, “but also” that. And your clever phrasing probably loses its cleverness if you repeat it.
The same goes for punctuation. Use dashes, semicolons and colons sparingly, and please make sure you’re using them properly. If everything is bold or italic, nothing stands out. And for goodness’ sake, STOP YELLING AT ME in all caps.
Try changing up your writing techniques, too. If you start every calendar entry with a question, think about other options. It’s good for you.
3. You actually use so many words that your own writing itself is currently too wordy.
Space isn’t a concern online like it is in a newspaper. But you should still be concise in your writing. For example, you could say an organization decided to disband, or you could say it disbanded. The result is the same.
Most of the time, words such as actually, own, itself, currently and located are extraneous. “Your own writing” means the same thing as “your writing.”
As with all style guidelines, it’s OK to break this rule. But you should have a reason.
I also read stories that have so many details, I’m not sure what the story is. A good writer knows what to include but also what to leave out.
4. Your copy has inconsistencies.
Of course, your writing should be repetitive sometimes. If someone has a complicated last name, make sure it’s spelled correctly in every instance.
In addition, style guides such as The Associated Press Stylebook can’t cover everything. If you’re not sure how to write something, check your resources and make a judgment call. But stick with it.
5. You think it’s your editor’s job to fix everything.
I repeat: Check your resources. Learn your publication’s guidelines. Pay attention to style and grammar as you write. Read over your work before submitting it.
If you want a sharp (and happy) editor, don’t make him or her fix every comma and apostrophe in the stories you write.
Are you an editor with tips to add? A writer who disagrees? Email me at email@example.com.