Sometimes writing your own stories is much easier than having to edit someone’s. It’s a fine balancing act; giving constructive, actionable feedback to your author, without damaging their own style. The story you are editing needs to be engaging, in line with the business aims (if on a corporate blog), and maintain the unique style of the author. It’s a tough job. I want to share with you what I have learnt during my editing days.
Meet Milos. Milos is a team lead for ManageWP, now GoDaddy Customer Happiness team, and he is a joker. When I say a joker, I mean every other sentence that comes out of his mouth is a South Park reference. Milos also happens to be one of the most active (hyper active) people I have worked with, and a first class storyteller. Recently at WordCamp Belgrade he held a talk, a personal story about customer support. And, of course his story moved people. So, I asked him to put his presentation in writing on our company blog.
Using his example I am going to teach you how to edit a writing style that can be wildly different from your own, and keep your author motivated to write again.
Identify and Accept the Author’s Style
This is not your story. Remember that. Don’t come in and change everything that you don’t like. It’s not about you (shocking I know). A great editor, puts his/her ego to one side, and takes a step back to understand the unique style of the author. Here is an example. Milos writes in a very conversational style, and makes a lot of outside references assuming his audience gets him.
“Nothing fancy, he said?!?! Riiightttt. It was a metric ton of work.It took me 2 weeks to finish everything. I got an instant reply and, imagine that, I got in (Tron reference ? ).”
So I have seen the Tron movie once, but did not get the reference. Do you? So, why did I decide to leave it in the article? It’s his style, it sounds like Milos when he speaks. Reading the article I can imagine him making that reference, and although perhaps not perfectly placed here, to him it makes sense. Does it hurt the article? No. It doesn’t take away from the meaning, his point comes across clearly and there are people out there who will get that same reference.
By leaving his personality in the article, it becomes his own and if it’s not obstructing the clarity of the message, no need to edit it out.
Structuring an article well comes with experience. As an editor the likelihood is you will have more writing experience than your author. This isn’t always true, but either way focusing on structure is easier when you have some distance from the story. How often have you sat down and started writing without giving the flow a thought? Virginia Wolf is an exception and her writing although excellent is difficult to understand. Remember you are writing for your company blog, your aim is to attract, engage and convert.
Milos’s article is about support, what he believes it is, and his aim is to encourage others to see it his way and eventually come and join our team.
What his article structure needs to look like:
- Tell his personal story how he started working
- Why having great support is essential for any company
- Talk about how support works at our company
- CTA playing to emotions, asking people to come and make a difference
How did we start off. Before Milos started writing we touched base about article aims, the idea behind it, and the general direction and structure of the article. Milos went and sat down to write.
Talk about the article structure before the writing happens.
After 1000 words he came back to me and said, I am half way there. I looked at the article and realised he had spent 1000 words on telling his story. That’s too long. We sat down together looked at it, and together came to a conclusion that the story needs to be more concise.
Together work through and tweak the article structure.
Don’t be afraid to get your author to go back and move things around. Milos left out headings (H2), which are important for visually breaking the article up, and even more important for the author to stay on track and in line with the article aims. If you want to make the aim even clearer use a heading that does just that.
Here is what we did:
“What is the point of all of this and what am I trying to tell you about support?”
The author knows what to write next, and the reader knows exactly what to expect next.
Use headings to help guide you in writing and editing.
Comb over the spelling & punctuation
All of us need a second pair of eyes on a piece of writing. Make sure you have a look at the details, is the punctuation correct, is the spelling on point. These little things leave a big impression on the reader. Having mistakes like “their” and “there“, and “loose” and “lose” can deem your article as untrustworthy, and you certainly don’t want that on your company blog. It’s the editor’s job to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Give Feedback and Motivation
Giving feedback during the process and after is make or break for you and your author. Okay if you are editing work of professional writers, you might take a slightly different approach. On a business level, working with people from different sectors who have agreed to write a post on the company blog, requires excellent feedback skills. These are not professional bloggers, they are engineers, designers, customer support agents, finance and office managers, but they all have valuable knowledge to share with your readers. Why? Well, because the people are the company and having a diverse blog gives you that extra edge.
Here is what Milos had to say about my feedback.
When Nevena gives feedback, it’s not a sandwich, it’s a Club Sandwich (many many layers). Consider it a royal one.
I might take the sandwich method (tell them something good, then tell them something bad) a bit too far. But, good feedback is motivation. Having the ability to explain mistakes, without disheartening them gives them motivation to carry on writing. Often people think that great writers are born, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Great writers write tirelessly till they become great. To improve you need to keep going. If you are an editor you know this, and you want to be a great or at least a good writer. For you the motivation comes from within. If you are an engineer, or customer support agent writing is not your primary skill set, so you might need some motivation on the side to keep going. That’s the editor’s job.
Tell me …
What do you think are the most important traits of an editor? Do you agree with me?
Have a look at Milos’s article, you can do that on the ManageWP Blog , and tell me do you think it’s well written and well edited?