As a freelance writer and writing instructor, I’m often asked to edit the work of my peers and of aspiring writers. And I love to encourage others to tell the stories that matter most.
Grammar cops. I also appreciate the editing skills of my writing peers, as they wield their red pens and hack on my “shoddy” first drafts. But at times, I observe grammar cops attack insecure, fragile writers, who approach them for encouragement as they tiptoe into the waters of writing for publication.
Now, I’ve been known to whip out my red pen from time to time, when someone asks me to do that kind of editing. But I try to use a little discernment and discretion when a novice writer approaches me with their work.
Aspiring writers. Sensitive, aspiring writers need our empathy, since they trust us with some of their most intimate tales. These newer writers pour out their hearts and souls into their first pieces; we need to handle them with care.
I’ve seen writers spanning from late teens to senior citizens. And I’ve noticed many of them choose topics dealing with difficult life struggles—the death of loved ones, flashbacks of war experiences, or simply leaving home and beginning their own journey as adults. I’m able to empathize with their pain, confusion, doubts, and fears. I recognize their need to tell their stories, trying to make sense out of the rumblings of their minds and troubled hearts.
Levels of edit. I believe it’s vital to discern the needs of a writer, not always assuming they need a grammar cop to attack their work with a red pen. My unsolicited grammar cop comments tend to cause more harm than good. I find it helpful to ask writers to clarify their needs and their expectations of me as an editor. What level of editing do they want?
I also think it’s important to examine one aspect of editing at a time, since I don’t do well at multi-tasking. And although many professional editors may have different terms to describe their levels of editing, my editing checklist for my own work includes three—the panoramic, macroscopic, and microscopic viewpoints. But sometimes, I consider one more level editing, especially with writers who need encouragement—like students, wannabe writers, or hobby writers (i.e. not professional writers).
Peer responses. Some professional writers may not even consider the peer response a valid level of editing, but it can serve as an important phase of the writing process. For instance, this approach might be helpful for some critique groups.
In the classroom, I required my students to participate in peer groups where they would listen and respond to each other’s work. I preferred small groups, where students seemed to be a little less intimidated. I wanted to encourage their writing, not scare them off.
I provided every student several copies of a peer response form. Then, as each writer read their essay out loud, their peers would listen, read along, and record their responses. After each reading, the group would discuss the responses.
One of my favorite writing professors, Dr. Sally Crisp, encouraged me as she taught aspiring writing teachers the value of emphasizing meaning.
I believe that we write to communicate and connect with others, often others we don’t know and may never know. In responding to writers, I like to let them know how their message got through to me. In other words, whether I ‘got it’ or I didn’t. I teach the same principle when I teach collaboration. The right kind of collaboration can be an excellent means of fostering in writers a keen sense of audience.
Dr. Crisp also composed a list of peer response questions and comments that you might find helpful, too.
- How has the writer introduced the essay?
- What is the main theme of the essay?
- Is there any information that you are wondering about? What might be added to develop the main point more fully?
- How did the author conclude the essay?
- What part of the essay do you find the most effective? Why?
- Suggest two or three things that would make the paper even better.
Who has encouraged you as a writer?