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Part I: Writers and editors—what makes them good?

In this two-part article, I explore the ins and outs of excellence in the writing and editing professions. Join me as I outline what you should be looking for in these getting-rarer but oh-so-necessary skillsets.

I started working as a professional writer and editor in my early 20s and have learned so much in my long career as both—and from supervising teams of both as well. And I’ve seen the gamut of good and bad and everything in between.

As a writer—and a meticulous one—I believe it is a joy to work with a good editor, as much as it is a nightmare to work with a bad one. But in either case, it’s an opportunity to learn. And along the way, I’ve developed my own ideas about what makes writers and editors good. And I mean really good—the kind that once you find them, you shouldn’t let them go. Ever. At the end of the day, writers and editors are partners. Each makes the other grow.

Having been (and continuing to be) on both sides of the equation, I’m happy to share my criteria for excellence in writers and editors—the things the good ones will continue to aspire to no matter how long they’ve been professionals.

There are six things that stand out to me in top writers, what aspiring writers need to be successful—and what team leaders need to consider when seeking the ultimate content creation specialist:

  1. Understand your subject: A stand-out writer knows how to get into the head of her subject. That means knowing how to ask the right questions during an interview, and knowing how to frame quotes so they glow. And when it comes to speechwriting, it means knowing how to take on a voice and speak it with confidence and grace through the written word.

  2. Know your audience: The writer who crafts brilliant articles knows his audience. He writes to the right level, fundamentally understanding his readers. He uses a tone that resonates, that isn’t highbrow or condescending. He gets the pitch exactly right.

  3. Be clear: The writer who masters her craft is clear. There are no fuzzy convoluted sentences. She gets right to the point and doesn’t get tripped up in her own rhetoric.

  4. Know your grammar (like nothing else!): The excellent writer is a grammar encyclopedia, hands down. He knows the intricacies and complexities of the English language and won’t sacrifice them. He can reach his audience with good grammar, even if colloquialisms and slang tempt him along the way.

  5. Be a good storyteller: Good writing is not just about grammar though, is it? The excellent writer is a fine storyteller and knows how to employ a story structure that makes sense.

  6. Don’t take it personally: Finally—and this is key to the writer/editor relationship—the excellent writer doesn’t take edits and changes personally. In my experience in the corporate world, the approval process is a multi-layered beast. Senior executives who put their stamp on a text are often thinking beyond grammar and style—they are thinking about business objectives and other sensitivities that may warrant changes. This is just part of the job. A thick skin and a readiness to find solutions are the only antidotes.


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