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How a Harsh Editor Made Me a More Mindful Writing Coach

It's easy to tear someone's work apart, but more fulfilling to help them improve it.

“Hey Amanda, your story is back to you.”

Per usual, we were running tight on deadlines, even as a bi-weekly college paper. It never seemed like we had enough time. So, hopefully these edits could be made quickly, and I could finish creating my section in InDesign. 

I logged into the editing system and opened my assignment to see nothing but blood aka my editor’s notes. 

Ugh. I didn’t know how long this would take, but any energy I had was completely gone when I saw the murder spree that had occured on my draft.

My editor smirked as she walked by, and I wanted to throw the closest copy of the AP Style Guide at her. Just kidding.

I could take editorial critiques. 

Good grief, I was an editor on the paper too. But I knew that if I only pointed out what was wrong in someone’s work, they wouldn’t want to write for me anymore. And the notes she left — strikethroughs mostly of what words she would have used instead — seemed like a punishment of sorts rather than helpful suggestions as I had to physically go through every point and erase my original words and then use her preferences.

Something happens for some people once they’re in a place of “editorial power” — they use it to build writers up or they take pleasure in pointing out every fault. 

There was no back and forth or “Hey, what about this”. Those suggestions were really mandates, and it forever changed how I chose to work in the writing world.

Forgive the Typo

Typos are going to happen. Yes, they can be annoying if you’ve gone to print already and can’t fix it or if someone else points it out.

But it’s not the end of the world. 

I’ve worked with clients who get frustrated if someone presents them a first draft with typos, but when they submit a first draft to me, they don’t realize the numerous typos lurking in their own work. 

And it’s not a huge deal. A simple suggestion of running it through a spellchecker or grammar software like Grammarly or Hemingway App can easily fix that.

Copy editors are the ones who should worry about typos. Not your standard editor, book or writing coach. 

So, I let it go.

Point Out What I Like

A lot of editors believe that the only way a writer will grow is to know what they’re doing wrong. Sure. But if you don’t know what you’re doing well, you won’t continue to do work in those strengths. 

And writers spend too much time pouring over details and specific punctuation for their efforts to be ignored. So if something makes me laugh, I’ll say so. If a detail really strikes me, I’ll make a note of it.

As a book coach, I want to connect my writers to their best stories, so they can connect with their ideal readers. So if something resonates, I’ll tell them. 

Know That It’s Ultimately Not My Story

To me, the sign of an insecure writer or editor is one who pushes their personal preferences onto someone else’s work. They’ll suggest alternate sentences or synonyms because they believe it “sounds” better. 

Well, “thank you”, John. But I meant to use “muggy”, so you can take “humid” with you as you leave on your high-horse.

Additionally, just because someone uses vivid imagery in their writing, and you don’t, doesn’t mean that someone is right or wrong. It’s just different.

I find this kind of editing cringe-worthy. It’s what you commonly experience in writing workshops — someone asserting what’s “better” for your work — but they miss the fact that it’s not their story.

As a writing coach, my job is to help you get out of your own way, which includes editorial development and creative blocks. It does not include telling you what is best for your story. I can only make suggestions and tell you where I believe more attention needs to be paid. But ultimately, it’s not my story, and you will have the final say.

This post was first published by Amanda Polick.

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