It’s weird, this phenomenon.
Logically, you might think that writers become less and less likely to need or want an editor the more practised they become at their craft.
The better the writer, the more likely they are to recognise the benefits of working with an editor. Why is it the case that a writer only starts to work with an editor once they’re well on the way to mastering the art of writing?
I have a theory
(I kind of had to have a theory on this, right?) Let me use an analogy to explain.
Imagine for a second someone discovering a talent for playing tennis.
A tennis player doesn’t rock up at their trainer’s door on day one, knowing they need intensive attention.
First, they become aware of the sport. They might pick up a tennis racket one summer holiday and knock a ball about with friends. They enjoy it. They might recognise that they’re better than their friends.
Second, they learn the basics properly. They take lessons, perhaps every weekend or short courses when they’re on vacation.
Next they practise. They become regular. They start to improve, to show promise, to outshine the majority of the people they play against. They may enter the odd competition. They may win.
Then it’s crunch time: whether or not they’re going to take it seriously or keep it as a side interest. If they’re going to take it seriously, step up, play consistently, win consistently, they know they need to vary their training, concentrate on nutrition, add muscle and hone their technique. They know it’s time to get a trainer, a nutritionist, a physio, a whole team of support people dedicated to their success as a tennis player.
Writing is no different
First, you start writing. It may be for your business or for yourself. You commit thoughts to paper. You embellish. You’ve jotted down something that sounds pretty okay and you quite enjoyed it actually.
Second, you remember the basic principles of writing, long since left behind in the classroom. If you’re going to do this, you need to make sure your writing makes sense, isn’t garbled, and follows a logical structure. You might read a few posts about the key elements of a blog post (Problogger is a fantastic place to start, for instance) and brush up on your grammar (try Grammar Girl podcasts for demystifying those basics that have been bugging you).
Next, you practise. You write prolifically. You blog. You email. You write for other people’s websites. You contribute a chapter of an ebook as a guest. You put together copy for your website. You write, write, write, write, write. You start to recognise patterns in the words you like to use, words that sound like you.
Sometimes you’re delighted to read confidence-boosting comments and receive compliments from readers. Sometimes your words flutter off in the wind never to be seen again, let alone given recognition. You’re prolific, but feedback is mixed.
Then it’s crunch time! You know you’re good. But are you going to nail this writing thing? Are you going to take it seriously? Are you going to call yourself a writer?
When hesitation turns to “I can do this”, when fear turns to “yes, yes, YES”, it’s time to gather your team around you. And the number one team member you cannot do without is your editor.
This, at least, is the traditional route. When a writer realises it’s time to hire an editor, they’re already often good. (Not necessarily without bad habits, but able to present something enjoyably readable.)
I’m going to dare you to do something different though.
Before you call yourself a writer, hire an editor.
Before you’re satisfied with what you’re publishing, reap the benefits of that second set of eyes.
Before you put another word out into the world, go pro and ask a language specialist to show you their skills.
I would say this of course… as an editor
It’s not self-serving though, believe me. It’s from a place of true experience. I had never learned as much about writing, not even in my translation and linguistics masters degree, until I was in a writing position where I was submitting to an editor on a regular basis.
Hiring an editor steepens the learning curve. In fact, it’s incredible value for money to hire an editor early, when you’re less confident, less practiced, less in tune with your voice, and less aware of the language you’re using.
You get feedback.
You get expertise.
You get personalised style tips.
You get praise.
Good writers, the ones who have reams of published writing under their belt, they know the secret.
They work with editors because they realise that no matter how fantastic the work they turn in, there’s always more to learn, new ways to express, quirks and preferences they’re yet to discover. That’s why good writers hire editors.
And why inexperienced writers should start before they’re ready.