In Writing, Editing Is Everything

The great misconception about writing – and all artistic work, really – is that content doesn’t take much time or effort to produce. That great writers always pen best-sellers on the first draft. It’s no wonder we’re frustrated when our first drafts look nothing like the final one that exists only in our heads.

One of my favorite sayings is: All the magic happens in the editing. That doesn’t mean a writer can simply add words to a page and rely on an editor to shape and polish it. It means every piece must first be edited heavily by the writer and then thoughtfully by their editor.

In our view, editing IS writing, which means the path to a top-notch piece of content starts with a writer who has a vision for a final piece and is brave enough to edit their draft ruthlessly. When they have copy that’s close to their vision, they’re eager to send it to an editor who can help them get it to the final destination.

The Writer’s Task: Judge the Narrative

At Version A, our editorial process is rooted in the newsroom, and we’ve broken it into three distinct steps: Drafting, copyediting, and proofreading. Of course, it’s an iterative process. We allow enough time in the copyediting process for a dialogue between writer and editor and for any revisions.

In a similar way, Adam Moss, former editor of New York magazine and author of a new book, The Work of Art: How Something Comes from Nothing, breaks the artistic process into three phases: Imagining, judging, and shaping

At first glance these mirror Version A’s editorial steps, but his judging phase isn’t the same as copyediting. Judging is integral to the writer’s creative process.

The judging phase allows writers to step back from messy first drafts to subjectively assess the execution of their idea. As Moss points out, they use intuition to determine if what they’ve created is working. Some of that intuition is based on experience and knowledge of the rules of narrative, storytelling, and grammar. But a significant part is also knowing the difference between good and great.

Another key point Moss makes is to build time into the process for failure. Writers and clients often overlook this. It takes quite a bit of time after that first draft to edit, judge, and revise the narrative until it’s coherent, cohesive, and creative. And sometimes, you have to be ruthless. Sometimes, you need to scrap your entire first draft. This is why we give our team ample time for the drafting step.

The Copy Editor’s Task: Judge the Work

Only when our writers finish writing and editing do they share their work with our copy editors who – no surprise! – follow a similar “judging” process. 

To get each piece as close to perfection as possible, our editors ask four key questions. 

1. Does the narrative make sense and flow logically?

Earlier this month, I attended an editing workshop led by Kris Spisak, a member of my writing group here in Richmond, VA, and a professional editor. She’s written four books, and her fifth will be out in September. Two of her books focus on editing: Get a Grip on Your Grammar: 250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused and The Novel Editing Workbook: 105 Tricks & Tips for Revising Your Fiction Manuscript. (I recommend both.)

In her workshop, Kris described the process of “macro” editing – a term I love. It accurately describes our first read-through of any piece.

At this step, we hold off on grammatical and spelling edits and look at the story holistically. We assess the narrative the writer is using. How are they telling the story? Is their approach successful? Do all the elements work together? Does the narrative build logically and does each supporting point reinforce the message?

2. Are we adding just the right amount of creativity?

We want all of our pieces to stand out and be memorable and readable. Creativity keeps the reader engaged. We often do this by weaving in interesting data points, anecdotes, or themes. There are dozens of ways to liven up even the dullest topics. 

And yet, it’s easy to go overboard with a creative theme. Too much can detract from the main purpose of the piece, while too little can leave the theme lost all together. As editors, we work with writers to find the right balance.

3. Have we worked in all of the key messages?

The purpose of every asset – blog, ebook, press release – is to communicate the client’s message. 

As we evaluate copy, we ensure it speaks to the right audience and carries the right messages. This is where we can use a creative brief as a checklist. The brief is a clear and efficient way for the client to document the main message and audience for a specific piece of content. It’s a valuable tool that keeps everyone on the same page and saves time in the creation process. 

4. Does every word pull its weight?

Every word has a job to do. A key quality of a well-written piece is that every word adds value. As we make the second or third pass through a draft, we evaluate each word on its own merit. Each must add to the narrative and drive it forward. Why? Because we understand that more often than not, people are looking to get the information they need quickly. We do our clients a disservice by taking too long to get to the point. 

Sometimes copy sounds smart and important, but says absolutely nothing. This type of long-winded copy filled with “fluff” is more likely to turn readers off. We have no regrets about removing any word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph that doesn’t put in the effort.

The Value of Collaborative Editing 

The role of editing in creating copy that people want to read can’t be understated. It requires time, attention to detail, and a whole lot of bravery. It starts with writers who understand how to assess their work critically and make the tough decisions, and who are open to feedback. It also needs copy editors who know how to help writers take it to the next level. 

That combination of dedication and collaboration is what the Version A team brings to the table for our clients and helps ensure that we surpass expectations every time.

In Writing, Editing Is Everything
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Diane Thieke

As the CEO and co-founder of Version A, I’m responsible for strategy and vision, as well as team and client happiness. My experience in journalism, public relations, and marketing proves I’ve built a career out of the things I’m most passionate about – curiosity, writing, media, and tech. I’m surrounded by smart, cool, creative professionals, so I’ve never been bored, had the Monday blues, or wanted to trade in the corporate job for the life of an author. Okay – that last one is a lie. #amwriting
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