As a writer, or a veterinary professional who writes to communicate with clients (which makes you a writer!), you take writing seriously. You think long and hard about the words you choose, and take ownership of each finished document. So, why would you let someone criticize and rip apart your hard work?
Editing can feel brutal and personal, but an effective editing process can make your writing exponentially better, despite the bleeding stab wounds.
We believe that every writer needs a good editor, and I am sitting down with Rumpus’ very own Paulette Senior, editor extraordinaire, to learn from her decades of editing experience.
Question: Why should every piece of writing be edited by a person other than the writer?
Answer: Some writers are too close to their work and cannot imagine improvement is possible, while others are never satisfied and cannot let go. For myself, I don’t enjoy writing, because it’s never good enough, and at some point, I need to hand off what I’ve written to an editor (who may also think it’s not good!), or it will never be finished. One of my newspaper editors told me: “I never met an article that couldn’t be improved,” and “I never met an article I couldn’t cut.” I’ve never seen him proved wrong.
Q: How can publishing poorly written content impact a veterinary business?
A: I think any poorly written information poorly impacts any business. If they can’t market themselves with a well-written piece, what else do they do badly? I always immediately get a bad impression of a restaurant whose menu is full of errors—drives my husband crazy—but ensuring everything is correct would be so easy, why don’t they do that?
Q: How does a professional editor remain consistent with changes they make?
A: That’s not easy—even writing goes through trends. The best way is to choose, and stick to, a style (e.g., Chicago, Associated Press). Most editing will also require a more specific style to suit their business, so a company style book comes in there. But, a style book is of no use if you don’t familiarize yourself with, or at least check, its rules. My first journalism class included a test of 10 AP rules during every class, which meant you pretty much had to memorize the whole book. I’ve often been tempted to do that with reporters, especially after I have deleted “just” for the hundredth time. (That one’s for Sarah, who strongly dislikes that word).
Q: It can be challenging to write fun content, such as a blog from a pet’s perspective, without it becoming silly. Do you have any advice about how to find that balance?
A: My only advice would be to always remember that you are writing for adults. The broader message is to always remember your audience.
Q: What words do you hate, and always remove when editing?
A: I really hate two: “It” because it’s seldom clear what “it” refers to, and “there are.” Is that three? You never need “there are.” For example, “There are many preventives available” = “Many preventives are available.” That advice comes from one of my favorite journalism professors, whose mantra was: “Never use three words when you need only one!”
That’s another thing I change all the time. I could give you a thousand examples, but here’s one: “When she fell, she sustained a lot of damage to her right foot” = “When she fell, she badly damaged her right foot.”
Q: Have you ever edited a piece and made NO changes?
A: Never, I’m afraid. But I have come close with a couple of yours, Angela!
Q: What is your favorite book (or one of them), and why?
A: Rather than one book, I would say that my favorite books are about strong women—American Dirt and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s autobiography immediately come to mind. Also, I would not forgive myself if I did not mention a fellow Australian. I loved and read all of Neville Shute’s books many times, especially A Town Like Alice. I even loved Bill Bryson’s Sunburned Country where he mostly made fun of my country—but he was mostly right, in a well-written way!
Q: What is the last book you read?
A: I don’t read much non-fiction anymore—I did that in high school and college. At the moment I’m finishing up the fifth of six books in the “Dublin Murders” series. Tana French is a wonderful writer who develops her characters so fully that you feel as if you know them, and she throws in beautiful descriptions of Ireland. And, I’ve yet to figure out who the murderer was until close to the end!
Q: What general advice do you have for veterinary professionals who want to write their own content (other than having their work edited)?
A: I would say, without wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, that having their work edited is my only advice. Veterinary professionals are always good veterinarians, but not necessarily good writers—of course, we have many exceptions to that rule here at Rumpus! Having an editor help with their writing only makes them look better. Plus, see my answer to #2.
Q: Who should veterinary professionals ask to edit their writing? Another veterinary professional? A friend who has impeccable grammar? Both?
A: Definitely both, the former for the scientific content, and the latter to ensure the writing is good. A non-veterinarian is also helpful because they can ensure the writing is clear to a non-veterinarian. More advice from my journalism professor—everyone can read, understand, and enjoy a well-written blog, article, or book.
If I can have the last word—please don’t think that an editor always wants to change what you wrote, no matter what. My goal is always to:
- Simplify your writing.
- Make your writing succinct, but understandable.
- Make your words flow smoothly.
- Make you—and Rumpus—look good.
And to reach a day when every writer knows the difference between its and it’s!
Opening an edited document is a bit easier knowing that Paulete has our best interests at heart. (Plus, she is a phenomenal co-worker and friend!). Reach out to a trusted colleague or friend, or both, and ask them to review your writing, without holding back. If your team is too busy, Rumpus Writing and Editing can help—connect with us for all your writing and editing needs.