developmental editing

Good Questions: How Do I Know When I Need an Editor?

If you haven’t been reading my blog regularly, you might have missed announcements about the new Twitter chat that I co-host with fellow editor Katie Rose Guest Pryal. We launched this chat to make writing more social and to see if we could find the answers to life’s persistent writing questions.

During the last #EditQs chat, friend and PhD career coach Jen Polk asked a great question:

Her question got me thinking about at what point in the writing process people tend to seek out the help of an editor. Most of the time, people start reaching out for editing help towards the end of the writing process to iron out style issues. Many times people hear the word editing and think of putting the finishing touches on a piece of writing. Sometimes people use the word editing when they really mean final proofreading for typos.

Editors do all of these things.

Some editors do more: they do what’s known as substantive editing or developmental editing.

As I told Jen, anyone can benefit from working with an editor on anything at any time:

Developmental editors help writers to develop their ideas, build structure, and organize their writing. This kind of editing usually takes place during the early stages of the writing process, when the writing is messy and the writer's ideas look more like an amorphous blob. Developmental editing often overlaps with mentoring or writing coaching. Editors who work with writers in the early stages coach writers and ask them questions to clarify issues of purpose, meaning, and audience.

I think it is important to mention that developmental editors don’t write their clients’ stuff for them; they are not ghostwriters. Developmenta leditors work to guide writers towards greater clarity and organization. This kind of editing usually involves substantial reorganization and restructuring of pieces of an existing manuscript (or article, book, etc.).


Does this mean you can bring an editor a pile of messy scribbles and say, "HELP!"?


If you've got a piece of writing, or some ideas, an editor can help you get your ideas under control and on to the page. Bring us your ideas. Bring us your thoughts. Bring us your scribbles. We can help.

P.S. We'll be co-hosting the #EditQs chat again on February 29th at 1pm EST. Got writing questions? We've (probably!) got answers.

[Photo: sunset, Boulder, Colorado, February 2015]