Hi, there, it’s your friendly neighborhood editor again. I’d like to say a little more about what I do and why—what’s actually happening when I mark up your writing.
Usually when Eric sends me something to edit, something he wrote or something one of his colleagues or clients wrote, I make a few minor changes and send it on. More rarely, I ask permission to make major changes or ask the author for a rewrite.
Sometimes when I ask for a rewrite, the reason is that the draft article doesn’t have a cohesive point.
“What do you mean, I don’t have a point?” I can imagine these writers exclaiming. “This is one of the most important points I’ve ever tried to make!”
Yes, you have a point—but your article doesn’t. Not yet. That’s my point.
What you want to say doesn’t always make it into what you write—and what you write is the only thing your readers can read.
There are various things you can do to get more of what’s in your head out on paper or on the screen—you can brainstorm, write outlines, talk it out with someone else, and so on. But the important part to realize is that what you meant to write and what you actually wrote can be different, and it’s very hard for you to pick up on the problem yourself because when you look at your work you see how it’s supposed to be. Almost all writers do—that’s why there are editors. You need the outside perspective.
A lot of the issues that I find seem to stem from writers not being able to see what their readers see.
For example, there are writers who use repetition for emphasis. I suspect what’s happening is that when you write something important to you, you feel it—so when you write it again, you feel it again. Repetition increases emotional intensity for the writer, but usually not for the reader. For the reader, what makes a statement pop is how clearly it’s written, how well it’s set up by the rest of the article, and how it’s placed on the page. If you get all that right and once is enough. Get it wrong and repetition won’t help.
(There are other ways that repetition can be useful, though)
Or there are writers—and I used to be one of them—who think the best way to bring a reader to understanding is to lead them through the same path that got the writer there. Sometimes that works, but it’s seldom the best path to take. I mean, let’s be frank, you came upon your insight without the benefit of the article you’re writing, so you probably had to wander around in circles for a bit. Plus, if your background or thinking style differs from that of your reader, they might not be able to follow your path to understanding at all.
It’s important to remember here that the final article won’t be your creation alone—it will be a collaboration between you and your reader. So how your reader will experience your article is very definitely something to take into account.
What it all comes down to is that the problem I’m flagging is very rarely a problem with your article as it exists in its ideal state in your head. It’s a problem with the draft you wrote, which probably doesn’t read the way you want it to—and you can’t see it because you are too close to your own work and because you don’t have the same perspective your readers do.
That’s why you (and pretty much everybody else) can really use an editor.
It’s okay if your article lacks a point at first… remember to give yourself permission to write badly. Here’s a podcast episode with the author of this blog on the topic of writing badly.
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