How being an editor made me a better copywriter (and vice versa)

The writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads - Dr Seuss

Being an editor and a writer are two distinctly different parts of my job.

As a copywriter, I need to be able to identify and define a client’s needs and message and turn it into engaging, well-informed copy. I need to be a researcher, an audience psychologist, and adept at capturing complex ideas in simple words.

As a copyeditor, on the other hand, I’m not concerned with writing a piece, but fixing it. As well as correcting grammar and spelling, I need to ensure the language is clear and consistent, and the content is appropriate for the audience and objectives.

Some people argue that if you’re one, you can’t successfully be the other. I say poppycock. While the process is different, both are two sides of the same coin. In fact, rather than being mutually exclusive, I’ve found being a copywriter has actually made me a better writer and vice versa.

From editing to writing…                         

Cut the c*#p

When you first start out writing, it’s extremely easy to get caught up in the creative flow. Instead of just getting to the point, you can get sidetracked into describing things in great detail, doing your damnedest to demonstrate your writing prowess.

However, what copywriters often forget – and I’m sure I was guilty of in the early days – is that they’re not writing a novel. Even where a job requires descriptive prose, being an editor has helped me realise that this is business writing, I, therefore, try to keep things clean, concise, and to the point.

Be less precious

It seems us writers have a bit of a reputation for being easily affected, or even highly-strung – woe betide any editor who dares suggest a piece of copy is not perfect. When I first started out writing, I definitely got offended if a manager or client wanted me to rephrase or rewrite something. However, once you’ve been on the other side, you get it.

A change or edit is not an affirmation of poor writing ability – sometimes, amends are necessary. Whether it’s not clear enough, doesn’t quite fulfil the brief, or simply because the client wants it said a different way, being an editor makes you realise that making changes is okay.

Check your work before you send

As an editor to copywriters, while you don’t expect a piece of writing to be perfect, if it contains multiple errors, it doesn’t look great. Sometimes, as a writer, when you have spent many hours on a piece, you just want to get it sent, but failing to reread your work can lead to glaringly obvious errors.

Working as an editor, I know how unprofessional this looks – especially if you see the same mistakes in a writer’s work several times even after you’ve given them feedback. As a writer, I now have ‘submitting to editors’ paranoia: I will read, check and tweak a piece of copy several times before I’m happy to click send.

From writing to editing… 

Maintain the writer’s integrity 

Being an editor, my job is not to rework a piece, so it sounds like I’ve written it. Instead, it’s about improving what’s there. I’ve worked with editors before (and in some instances, managers and directors purporting to be editors) where they make changes and edits with zero consideration of what the writer was trying to achieve or without considering the piece as a whole.

Because I know what goes into the writing process and how difficult it can be to pull a piece together, as an editor, I’m very careful to be respectful of the writer’s turn of phrase, their approach, and their thinking. I’ll try to ensure their writing style shines through, even when making changes.

Ensure feedback is specific and constructive

Nothing is worse as a writer than getting a piece of work back from an editor and being asked to make changes without explanation. “Can you write a new headline”; “This bit is not good/doesn’t work.” These types of comments are not helpful. While amends may need to be made, if you don’t know why you’re changing something, how can you improve on it?

Because I know this frustration, I am always careful as an editor to be specific in my feedback. If the headline isn’t working because it won’t engage the audience, I will suggest a different approach. If something is ‘not good,’ I’ll explain exactly what’s not working – whether it’s the words used or the lack of cohesion. Be doing this, writers are more likely to get it right.

Be nice 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – writing is an involved process. It takes a lot of effort and energy to pull together a piece. So, if an editor comes back at you with nothing but negatives and changes, it’s not a nice feeling. Because of this, even if a piece of work is not up to scratch, I will make an effort not to be all doom and gloom when I go back to the writer.

Instead, I’ll try to focus on the good bits. I’m not pandering to their sensitive nature; I simply know that by approaching it in this way, I’ll get a much better outcome. And if a piece of work is great, I’ll let them know – after all, everyone likes positive feedback, not just writers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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