Be Your Own Editor

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Among the many stale criticisms thrown at electronic publishing is that with no editors, we’ll descend into a dystopian future with wailing children, dripping drainpipes and books filled with what appears to be printouts of Yahoo! Answers.

The non-hysterical among us can see that this is a pretty unlikely scenario, but it’s definitely true that as more people have access to publishing tools, the opportunity to have someone around whose job description includes correcting and improving your work won’t be afforded to everyone, least of all the average Joes or Janes blogging, tweeting, wikipediaing or quoraing.

So what’s a writer to do? Just accept that her content isn’t going to be as good as it could be? I wouldn’t recommend it. Is there a coming cottage industry for freelance editors? Perhaps, but I think there’s a better way. Be your own editor.

Practice reading your own content with a careful, critical eye. Really push yourself to write the hell out of everything. Even email.1 Start reading literature — you are what you read. There are dozens of writing and editing books out there.

Because the rewards of being able to write well are tremendous. Our society is becoming more and more text based,2 and those folks who can communicate clearly and precisely what they mean have a huge leg up; not to mention all the ancillary benefits like: writing is fun, sharing knowledge is a huge high, and blogging is still the best way to promote yourself online.3

So go ahead. Put away the Twitter client and start practicing. Be your own editor.

  1. John Gruber on how he got so damn good at writing: “Based on some common rules-of-thumb, I’d written several books worth of email messages over the previous five years — posts to mailing lists and a ton of personal correspondence, all of which I tried to write the hell out of.” 

  2. I don’t see that reversing any time soon. We can scan text something like twice as fast as we can absorb information from audio — that’s a pretty high bar for video to clear. 

  3. Plus, the freelancing revolution isn’t going anywhere — it’s only going to get bigger — and communication is the number 1 skill a freelancer needs to have. 


  1. Daniel Jalkut replied on March 24th, 2011:

    Great advice. I like John’s comments, too, about becoming a good writer by just freaking trying again and again, for a long time. I often cite my early involvement with BBS culture as a kid, consistently trying to communicate on a meaningful level with people much older than me, as a contributor to my above-average writing skill.