Editing advice: Thank an editor for tearing apart your story

BloodDear students,

You may not realize it now, but the best thing that can happen to you early in your career is to have an editor tear apart your copy, rip it to shreds, massacre it with a red pen until it bleeds.

Am I making my point?

The more professors or editors restrain themselves from marking your page, the more of a disservice they are doing you. As a journalism student, this is the time to make mistakes and learn from them.

At this point in your young career, you are not expected to know every Associated Press Style guideline. Even seasoned professionals do not know every AP Style rule and never could. There’s just too much.

iphoneiconAP Style is something writers spend their lives learning. They return to the AP Style Book over and over to check things, making sure they have spelled words correctly, hyphenated, italicized, used lowercase letters or capitalized.

As a young journalism student, you are not expected to be perfect. That’s why you’re in college – to learn? But you are expected to commit to learning the English language and all its little rules and regulations if you want to become a good, efficient writer.

That means teachers, editors and some journalism professionals that you meet early in your career will rip your papers to shreds because they want you to be your best. They aren’t being mean. (Usually) They just want you to learn from your mistakes, begin paying attention to the questions that float through your mind about your stories, and make an effort to look up the answers.

imagesIn this class, you may be asked to revise your story and make corrections. The page may look like Freddy Krueger (Yes, I just looked up the correct spelling of his last name) slashed it with his knife fingers. But keep this in mind – a marked-up page is not a reflection of your potential as a writer.

For a teacher/editor, it’s not about pointing out your shortcomings or trying to embarrass you. The goal is to make you understand some of the basics of AP Style so you’ll shine brighter when you enter a professional workplace.

When editors edit your work and tighten your sentences, they are rooting for you. They are cheering you on during your first job interview. They are clapping as you write the first paragraph of the first professional story that bears your byline. They are jumping for joy about that Pulitzer Prize you’re going to win someday. And they’re doing this with the help of all the editors they’ve had who have slashed their copy too.

Another thing to keep in mind – even the most seasoned, Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times® Best Selling author needs a copy editor. Most of the time, we simply cannot see our own mistakes because we don’t have an outside perspective.

At this point, students are expected to have long, winding sentences that are too wordy. They are expected to occasionally use the English language incorrectly. They are expected to make AP Style errors – like spelling out an age instead of writing it as a number. They aren’t expected to know what questions to ask about their own writing.

But these things are expected:

  1. Be receptive to criticism. Editor intend to help, not hurt.
  2. Make the corrections and revisions that are asked of you.
  3. Read and edit your copy at least three times before you turn it in. (I do this with every article I give an editor.)
  4. Use your AP Style Book when you are writing. If you have any questions about anything that may be found in your AP Style Book, look it up. (We will come back to this rule again and again in class, but NEVER publish anything that you have a question about. Make a call. Research. Use the Google machine. Find the answer.)
  5. Strive for perfection, but accept that your writing will never be perfect no matter how hard you try because you are a human being.
  6. Make mistakes. Learn from them.

Number 5 and 6 also apply to life. Forget perfection. It ain’t gonna happen. But strive to be your best and do your best with every task in life because that’s what your parents and grandparents have probably taught you to do.

But the flip side of that is – if you want to grow and learn in this world, you have to be willing to make mistakes. So don’t be afraid to make a mistake when you’re writing.

Write freely. Live. But always have an editor in your life who will give you honest feedback.

* Note: This post was edited more than 10 times before it was finally published and left alone, and there may still be errors in it because I’m the only one who has eyed it.

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One thought on “Editing advice: Thank an editor for tearing apart your story

  1. Pingback: Class 13: Tuesday, Oct. 8 | The ROBO-MOJO

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