21 Editors

'Just write the damn thing. A second draft can make it better.'

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
Mark Twain

 

When I started writing I remember thinking that getting limited or no feedback from my editor was the goal, but I later realized writing growth comes in the reverse. It’s a theme common among the most successful writers.

“When you first start you think you know everything,” Hoppert agreed. “I definitely have changed in that way. You have to trust in your editor and that they know what they are doing. Their job is to be the reader and read as a reader would read it, and to make it easier for the reader. You can’t sweat the small stuff. Put the piece in and let it go. After I file the story, I walk away from it. It belongs to the editor now.”

Seeking and getting feedback on your writing even before the deadline from those who see and massage a lot of copy can help with the writing process as well as the end result.

“You can’t take it personally, even though it feels like it,” Lukan said. “If there are substantial rewrites, take that as an opportunity to learn what you could have done differently. Maybe you don’t change anything next time and you think your editor is full of crap, but just taking the time to learn their perspective will only make your writing better in the future.”

Abby Vesoulis went straight from working for the Ohio State Lantern to an internship at Time magazine and parlayed that into a full-time job. She recognizes how significant Time editors have been to her growth as a writer.

“I’m really lucky where I have editors who like that you come to the table with 1,000-2,000 words more than you need because then they can help you decide what’s important and what’s not important,” Vesoulis said. “I always make suggested cuts but a lot of times they say ‘No I think we should keep this, let’s cut this other part.’”

Adam Jardy recalled that editor involvement in the early revision process for an extensive story on college football recruiting helped him see the story in a light often dimmed by his proximity to the story.

“When you become the expert on a specific topic, you can get a little too focused on the forest for the trees,” he said. “ It helps sometimes to just have another set of eyes on it. It also helps sometimes to write and then come back to it a few hours later and give yourself a chance to just distance yourself from it for a little bit. You go back and maybe you thought you were really clever with this paragraph and then you back and you’re like, ‘Man, I sound like an idiot.’ Those things happen frequently so as long as you have the time, doing things like that can be really beneficial.”

That does not mean, however, that it’s always a positive experience to have work cut or changed, and discussing changes with an editor; even advocating to reverse cuts you strongly oppose can be a good exercise. The key is to make a strong and logical argument that comes from the perspective of the reader, not the writer. And be sure to pick your fights well.

Hoppert recalled profiling the owners of 2014 Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome, the first horse they had ever bred and raced. The couple was racing outsiders and the wife told Hoppert she had obtained her Derby outfit not at a boutique but rather at a Cracker Barrel.

“It was the perfect juxtaposition that they were not Kentucky bluebloods,” she said. “If they would have edited out the Cracker Barrel, I’d have been upset and I would have fought for it. If I argue over every word change or comma placement I am not going to make any friends. Then you can’t argue the big stuff.”

Here is an example of how a revision schedule worked in a package I wrote of eight mini-features, coming in at about 5,000 words.

  1. Wrote all of the profiles and put them in a working folder.
  2. Put them all away for a week.
  3. On the seventh day, I opened the first one and reworked it, taking a macro view, until I was relatively satisfied.
  4. Completed that same process with all of them over the next three days.
  5. Reread all of them out loud and continued revising sticky areas.
  6. Reread all of them and started on a micro view of checking the details.
  7. Printed them out and went through them line by line to find any problems (punctuation, misspelling, capitalization).
  8. Triple-checked every proper noun, every title, every company name and the spelling of every source name.
  9. Turned them in a week before the deadline.

I am sure my editor will have questions and additional revision will take place based on her opinions and desires, but the goal here is to turn in the best, most complete and most accurate story you can.

“The biggest leap is going from nothing to something,” Steve Rushin of Sports Illustrated said. “Just write the damn thing. A second draft can make it better.”

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