Monday, May 14, 2012

The Importance of Care in Becoming a Better Writer

I attempted to write this post for my Writing in 140 series, but it couldn’t be done. Perhaps in four, five posts, but not in one.

What topic presented itself with this abundance of words?

Care. The care to become a better writer.

For the last 12 or so years, I've edited hundreds of books, short stories, essays, etc. Only a handful, less than 10, have made me want to run for the hills and give up the editing profession. I mentioned this in passing to someone recently, and the person was surprised that the latter number was so low. Thinking about it at the time, I have to admit I was surprised by the number, too. Then I thought about it.

How I present myself as an editor goes a long way in determining the type of clients I will receive. I am an educator. I teach. In everything I do, I teach—to include editing. My main goal as an editor is always to have a return client whose next work is better because of what was learned in the initial experience. Growth. That matters to me, potential clients realize this, and so those writers wanting to learn, who care about becoming better writers, are the ones who often contact me.

Now, what does that previous paragraph have to do with the low number of run-for-the-hills books?


The care to become a better writer can shine through a book that needs work. That care can make a reader (even if that reader is an editor) see the good things of that work despite the issues that need to be fixed.

I have had people tell me explicitly that they had no goal to become a better writer. They wanted all the work done for them, and even if there were to be another book, again, they wanted someone to handle making the writing sing on the page. More often than not, the stories that made me want to run for the hills were the stories written by people who didn’t care to become better writers. They didn’t care about the craft and the work that comes with developing a story that, even in draft form, shows what it could become in revisions.

Someone could easily argue that fresh-faced new writers probably don’t know enough to develop a “could be really good with some revision” draft. However, I would argue that there is a plethora of information and resources freely available to writers today online (like this very blog). People who want to take their writing seriously can help themselves by using these tools to outline and prepare for the writing to come, to write their first draft, and to do some self-editing prior to submitting their work for a professional edit.

That care, even if it’s just seen in short sparks throughout a work, matters. When there is care for the writing, the story, and the development of self as writer, that care is going to show in the end product, no matter how much work is needed for it to be polished. In addition, it will make others, like editors, more eager to want to see that work revised, rewritten so that the good stuff in it shines throughout the work.

Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. Her second mystery, Into the Web, was released April 2012. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, writing, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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  1. Nice post. Often we dwell on the mechanics, but caring is important.

    Thanks, Lou

  2. This is a fantastic post, Shon! I, too, taught when I was editing. In fact, "care" is what inspired me to switch from editing to mentoring.

    Unfortunately, it is possible to care too much. When I cared more than the writer, I sometimes found it difficult to deal with that writer's lackadaisical attitude toward the quality of the work. This, I suppose, could be another reason for the change to mentoring.

  3. This is so true, Shon. Not caring enough often results in sloppy writing. I've seen plenty of that!

  4. You can tell when a writer really tries. It takes a little more effort to spell check, re-read, and edit, then send it to the editor, instead of handing it to the editor to do everything.

    Morgan Mandel

  5. I hadn't thought of it in that way before, Shon. I've only had a couple that made me want to run for the hills and that was precisely why--they didn't care to do the work themselves, but wanted me to do it for them.

  6. Great post, Shon! So true! My clients often express appreciation for the fact that I take the time to explain in my on-screen margin notes why something isn't working or why I am suggesting certain changes.

  7. I DEFINITELY know what your mean, Linda. I've been in those situations where my care outweighed the writer's care. As a typically non-confrontational type person, I usually kept all the angst for myself, which made me awfully cranky and irritated when it came to coming to the project.

  8. Exactly, Morgan. Reading your comment made me think about how I feel when my students turn in essays that are badly formatted and riddled with obvious errors. Just glancing at the work, it puts me in a certain mood because I see the lack of care and attention giving to the work. It's the same way I feel about stories that lack that same care and attention.

  9. Reading this post and its comments makes me realize another aspect of "care" that an author can communicate: known weaknesses. It's not that we editors can't tell on our own that he's a terrible speller or that she freezes when she writes dialogue or that he has written a book that, in the end, is oddly dissatisfying. Believe me, we can! But to hear the writer express that "I'm dyslexic" or "I was home schooled by a mathematician" or "I want this book to feel important but it feels so lightweight" exhibits a self-awareness that says "I care." That bit of caring makes all the difference in an editor's attitude when working on a project, don't you think, Shon?


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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