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What a Great Editor Can Do For You
The beauty of borrowing another's perspective
If you want to get good at anything, you need another’s eyes.
This is so obvious when we’re children, but when we’re adults, we often assume we can teach ourselves anything. (“There’s YouTube!”)
And it’s true, up to a point.
But if you want to take your hobby into the public eye—golfing, dancing, guitar playing, singing, carpentry—you need a guide to bring you up to the highest standard.
This holds for writing, too.
As more and more people write digitally as a necessary part of life (consider how much emotional and economic business is transacted by text messages), few of them will have the chance to work with an editor.
This is a shame because the mere experience of working with an editor can change how you write.
When I began as a journalist, I was fortunate to be surrounded by great editors at The Atlantic.
I saw how carefully they read each piece. They asked questions, suggested rewordings, identified weaknesses, proposed additional evidence, and offered alternative lines of thinking.
In their hands, meandering anecdotes turned into enveloping stories. Sloppy arguments became subtle theses. Weak ideas were sharpened.
When I became an editor, I learned from their example.
The editor is a rare breed, but far from extinct.
This is why I encourage everyone who writes to get published in a place where editors still exercise their craft.
The experience of getting edited by a good editor is an education in itself.
Many people write well enough to get published.
More importantly, you may have experiences in the “real world” (which many journalists lack) that would make you desirable to publish, if you found the right venue and angle of approach.
The process is simple.
(In case you’re wondering how I know: I worked as an editor at The Atlantic and freelanced for years at Rolling Stone, Esquire, WSJ, The Atlantic, and other publications.)
Here is how you get published in The Atlantic:
You have a good idea. (A good idea is one relevant to readers of The Atlantic.)
You send that idea (“the pitch”) in an email to an editor at The Atlantic. This includes some background on you.
The editor accepts your pitch. He or she will give a word count, deadline, and rate. “Submit 1200 words at $1.50 a word, due end of September.”
You write the story.
The editors edit the story.
The story is published.
The hard part is the execution.
I’ve helped several people go through this process, and the sticking point is usually Number 1: how to identify an idea that an editor would find appealing to publish.
I’ll dig into that in a coming email.
What I’m Working On
I had a call last week with David Perrell, creator of the Write of Passage program. (Quoted above.) I’ve been an admirer of his for some time, and I’m impressed with what he’s built.
One thing that impresses me about his program is how it requires students to produce, give feedback, and receive it.
In effect, it’s doing what I just described.
You learn to edit yourself by editing others. You learn to write differently by being edited.
Everyone I know who has gone through Write of Passage credits it with transforming their writing.
I was pleased to be as impressed with David on the call as I was from his work.
If you’re interested, I encourage you to register and I’ll see you there.
Until the next time,