David Remnick is editor of The New Yorker. He’s an accomplished writer, responsible for all the content in one of America’s most respected magazines. Writing must be easy for him. Right? Perfect prose practically spills from his pen. Right? His drafts probably don’t even need revision. Right?
Writing is hard, even for masters of the craft.
I recently listened to a “Here’s The Thing” podcast where Alec Baldwin interviewed Remnick about his publication, his career, and his own writing.
Remnick explained that all writers are prone to “different stuff.” His “stuff” sounds a lot like mine—and maybe yours, too.
“I take too much time clearing my throat in the beginning of the piece,” he said.
What a perfect metaphor. When I write, salient points seldom appear in the first few lines. I have to write my way to the good stuff. The more I write, the more freely ideas move from my brain to the page. I’m clearing my throat, getting ready to speak.
Because Remnick has learned that this is part of his process, he tries “to get rid of a lot of the crap after finding the groove, after finding the rhythm, after finding out what it is I want to say.”
Me, too. When I review my own writing, I dig for the best material. Usually, it’s buried in the middle or at the end. I have to turn the draft upside down or inside out to get the good stuff.
Knowing your “stuff” isn’t always enough.
This kind of self-awareness makes it easier to revise your own work. But it’s not always enough. That’s why Remnick loves his editor (yes, even the editor has an editor)—someone who can see the content differently, eliminate extraneous material, and get to the point.
In a writing workshop this week, I had business writers draft messages, exchange with a partner, read aloud to each other, and share feedback. The collaboration resulted in breakthroughs for several participants. I heard phrases like, “I never thought of it that way,” and “That didn’t even cross my mind.”
One pair of writers had taken dramatically different approaches to the same topic: one more conversational, the other more businesslike. They found strengths in both messages, but admitted that neither was likely to get the desired response. By combining the two—congenial tone plus organized details—they raised their odds for a positive result.
Everyone benefits from an editor.
No matter your mastery as a writer, no matter how attuned you are to your “stuff,” no matter how strong your own revision techniques: you need an editor.
Feedback is not an affront. It’s a gift—a chance to make a better message, give a better impression, get a better result. Ask someone to review your work. Be open to other viewpoints. Love your editor.
Photo credit: Michael Tapp via flickr