“Hey, Rewrite This”

A friend of mine just now IMed me to ask a question regarding developmental editing, and I realized that I hadn’t yet talked about this here.

How do you politely say “Please go back and take another look at this whole section as I don’t think you’ll be pleased with what you’ll see, and it’s not worth it for me to do more than flag the whole thing as rewrite”?

Well, polite isn’t the point. I’m polite if that’s what I need to be with a writer. I’m crass if that’s what a writer needs[1]. When I make my comments, I seek to make them effective.

That means I don’t just say “Hey, rewrite this.” I see myself as having two options when I run into such a problem:

  • Rewrite the text and flag with “I found X, Y & Z problems with this text, so here’s an attempt at rewriting. You should take this and work with it, see if it matches your intent.” I only do that if the gig involves an expectation that I’ll do that from time to time, if the schedule we’re working on allows for that, and it’s actually going back to a writer.
  • Make a comment that goes into detail regarding the problems, with specifics. Saying “Rewrite this” is useless. Saying “Rewrite this, the flow isn’t any good.” is useless. Saying “Rewrite this, as it’s confusing” is useless. Explain why the flow is crap, where you’re getting confused as a reader, all the details you can. You’re talking to the person for whom this makes utter sense, which means you need to walk them through your thoughts as a reader and editor.

Let’s focus a little on the latter, since you’re going to run into times where rewriting is either the wrong option (due to time, roles & responsibilites, or situation) or you can’t actually figure out how to do the rewrite. Here’s what I focus on in my comments:

  • Name specific issues with the text. Say where the flow or comprehension breaks, or other negative reactions.[2]
  • Name why they’re issues. Details, not general rules.
  • Suggest what could be done, or be upfront that you have no suggestion.
  • Don’t be a dick about it.

Remember, your goal as a developmental editor that’s turning a draft back into the writer is to help them understand why you made the calls you did. (And not just because your writer likely knows where the “Reject Changes” button is.) If you’re too general, at best they’ll be confused and at worst they’ll entirely misinterpret your comment. But don’t be an asshole about it, either–that’ll just undermine all your efforts if they’re cussing you out with every comment.

(Unless, again, you’re working with people who thrive off of that.[3])

– Ryan

[1] Hi, Lenny.

[2] There was one article I was reviewing some time ago where I said “Um…do you realize this reads like it was written by a closet misogynist?” So not all reactions need to be about comprehension.

[3] See #1


7 Responses to “Hey, Rewrite This”

  1. Nancy says:

    Yes! I have collaborated on many scientific papers and specific edits and comments are extremely helpful! So this applies to editors and co-authors alike. :)

  2. Jason says:

    One thing that I did with Jess Hartley recently when we were working on a chapter of a thing she was writing (fiction) was we got on skype and went to Google Documents, where I highlighted each section and explained what I thought the emotional thrust of the section was (with comments in the sidebar), then the transition paragraphs (which was what needed to be rewritten) would stand out because they’d be bolded. Visually communicating what each bit is helps – she was able to even go into the section that I didn’t mark as rewrite-necessary and build up to or make changing a later section easier for herself.

  3. Bless you. Gaming needs more editors who can notice and take exception to things that are written like they were written by a closet misogynist. Hell, almost all of my fields of interest need that.

  4. Mike Bourke says:

    You need specifics, or the writer can spend all their time rewording and rewriting the parts of the text that were clear and miss the objective of requesting the rewrite in the first place. And what might have taken N hours can take 6N hours instead.

  5. Excellent post Ryan

  6. John Taber says:

    Great article. I am going to be editing my first RPG project shortly and any advice like this is great. :)