How Editing Helps Refine the Skill of Writing


There is a reason the best creative writing instructors form peer review groups. A student joins a class to “learn how to write better,” usually not realizing that in order to “be better,” you have to put your own notebook down and look over someone else’s.

The key to successful writing is remembering there is always room to improve; you can always become a better writer than you think you are right now. Refining that skill is a life-long process, and stepping out of your role as a writer and playing the part of an editor is one way to keep your mind ahead of your hands.

Here are three ways editing makes us better writers.

Awareness of Common Errors (and How to Fix Them)

When we limit ourselves to staring at page after page of our own writing, we start to gloss over the common style and even grammar mistakes we make. The one and only downside of reading professionally published writing is that you’re seeing the finished product, after it has been picked apart and reconstructed maybe six or seven times. All you see is the (hopefully) error-free work, and it’s easy to forget no piece of writing starts out that way.

Almost more effective than having someone else point out these shortcomings, seeing someone else make similar mistakes broadens our editorial lens and helps us to recognize common mistakes when we return to our own projects.

Shifting the Focus Off Our Own Work

Writing an original piece, whether it’s an article, short story, poem or full-length novel, is enough of a roller coaster. Going back and staring at the same paragraphs over and over again is like an elevated straightaway, then a downward plunge, then a slow climb—and repeat.

Editing our own work gets very old; exciting; then it drags us hopelessly along, either leaving us thinking we’re good enough to get published or we should just trash the thing now and start over. Taking time to close out our own documents and give our exhausted brains and eyes something new to look at is not only refreshing and motivating, but also beneficial for both the editor and writer.

Experiencing the Other Side of Criticism

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing, how many pieces you have or haven’t published, how many times you have or haven’t been rejected: taking criticism is hard. Every writer wants to believe the time and effort they’re putting into their work is making a difference, and when someone hands back a draft with corrections and suggestions clogging the margins, it’s discouraging. Often motivating, but still disappointing.

Probably the best way to learn how to handle criticism from someone else is to practice dishing it out yourself. Taking the time to read someone else’s work and practice giving feedback the way you would want someone to give it to you serves as a much-needed reminder that constructive criticism is literally in an editor’s job description, and you might be a great writer, but you’ll never be perfect.

Writing is hard; editing is harder. You won’t make it very far in your career if you try to maintain one without the other. Balance your writing with editing others’ work, and sometimes without even realizing it, your skills in both areas will improve quickly. It’s worth your time; you might even find you like it.

Image courtesy of Novel Revisions.

How Editing Is Like Making a Pizza


A well-deserved, crunchy and delicious pizza.

Learning the proper way to edit is almost as challenging as writing a first draft, especially when you don’t have much experience editing others’ work before trying to proof your own. Any analogy can help a new editor make sense of the steps and layers that go into proofreading and/or editing their own work. Especially analogies involving food.

Unsure of the steps you should take when looking over something you’ve written? Think dinner. Think pizza. 

Start with the Crust

A pizza’s crust, rounded-out dough as flat and thin as you can make it, is the foundation of every “successful” pizza. In the same way, the foundation of every successful piece of writing, its content, is where the editing process begins.

At this point, grammar, spelling, punctuation—do your best to look over it during your first read-through. Focus instead on the words, and whether they convey the message you are trying to get across. Are they accurate? Credible? If an outsider comes in and strips away the other layers (we’ll discuss those in a second), will they find a strong foundation, or just some fluffy dough with no substance?

Once your foundation is set, you’re ready for the next step.

Layer On Sauce

After the crust is set and ready to go, the sauce comes next. Think of sauce as a necessary filling, painting the crust and serving as a healthy barrier between that and its toppings.

This “filling,” in the editing sense, takes one step above the piece’s base content and looks at the way it is presented. This can include things as small as sentence structure and as large as paragraph breaks, order and placement. You’ll also pay closer attention to spelling, grammar and punctuation here. One of the most important ingredients in this step, however, is the use of transitions. Not necessarily outright “firsts,” “nexts” and “lasts,” but smooth segues from one related topic to another.

Having an evenly spread, and okay, flavorful sauce to layer over your crust ensures the content of your piece is well-structured, neat and readable in an orderly, organized sense.

Choose the Right Toppings

Toppings are meant to enhance a pizza, but they’re certainly not required. Some go for simple, plain cheese, and there’s nothing wrong with this style. Some like to get a little fancy, and if you’re able to find the right combination of toppings that fits your desires, and the desires of those who are going to eat it, you’re on your way to winning a Nobel Prize in Pizza Making. Sort of.

What are your piece’s “toppings”? This is where you get to examine your diction, your adjectives (a minimal amount of them, of course) and ultimately decide what should be included in the final product and shouldn’t.

This is probably the toughest step; you’re critiquing your own skill and creativity, which is a pendulum that can swing in two drastically different directions (“I’m the best writer ever, I don’t need to revise anything!” or “I’m the worst, no one will ever want to read this, I’m just going to delete the whole thing and start over”).

It takes time to find the right balance between all the elements we’ve discussed so far. Once you do (and this could take time—and that’s okay), you’re ready for the final step in your pizza making/editing adventure.

Cover with Cheese—and Bake

Cheese is more often than not the final layer of a pizza recipe before sliding the brilliant creation into the oven to bake. You can add as much or as little as you want, but this last step is what makes a pizza a pizza, and not just baked dough with tomato sauce on top.

In this step, you’ll review everything you’ve done up to this point. Is the crust solid, a good enough foundation to support the rest of what goes on top? Is the sauce spread evenly and thick enough that every bite will leave the diner satisfied? Are there enough toppings to keep the experience interesting, without overwhelming the overall taste of each slice? Does it look presentable, even before entering a 400 degree oven?

Once you add the cheese, your pizza—whatever you’ve written, revised and refined—is as good as it’s going to get. Let it rest in the oven of your mind for a bit. Bring it out again, let cool, and admire your (almost) perfect creation. 

Editing is hard, especially when we’re naturally so critical of our own work. Break the process up into steps and let those steps build comfortably on one another. Start with what’s most important and save the tweaking and “spicing up” for last. Then let yourself enjoy what you’ve accomplished, before sharing it with others.

Now if you’ll excuse us. Pizza for breakfast (while simultaneously editing articles) sounds pretty good right now.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.