11 best practices for working with an editor

greeting card to editor says "thank you for making me suck less"My latest blog post for the Harvard Business Review makes the case for adding an editor to your content marketing team. As I note in that post,

Content marketing will only deliver on its promise if it’s good enough to deliver customers–that’s why improving the quality of content marketing is critical to business. But creating the kind of excellent original content that attracts, engages and retains an audience requires a mix of competencies that go well beyond what you find on a typical marketing team. At the top of that list of missing competencies is professional editing.

You’ll get the most value from adding an editor to your team if your contributors know how to work with an editor effectively. As a writer and blogger I’ve been lucky to work with a number of talented editors, and to develop a particularly close and collaborative working relationship with Ania Wieckowski, the editor of my Work Smarter with Social Media series for Harvard Business Review Press (and recently, my HBR blog posts, too). If you’ve read any of the books in the series, you’ve seen the impact of Ania’s work: she has an extraordinary ability to identify the most relevant content, to challenge techno-speak so that instructions are clear and accessible, and to tease out the underlying assumptions and argument that tie it all together.

But for an editor like Ania to do a great job, writers have to do theirs. And that job doesn’t consist merely of puking words onto a page and then hitting “send”. Just as important is the way writers engage in the editorial process — which means learning how to work with an editor. Here are my suggestions for how contributors can make that relationship successful:

  1. Start thinking in the plural. It’s not “my” work anymore…it’s ours. Yes, I’m the person with her name on the cover and on the Facebook page (how good a deal is that?) but Ania worked just as hard on the final product. Respecting your editor’s investment in each piece you produce together is key to every aspect of your working relationship.
  2. Seize the opportunity to improve. If you think of your editor as an incursion to defend against, you’re going to have a hard time collaborating. Instead, think of your editor as a therapist for your writing — someone who is actually going to help you think, argue and write better. You wouldn’t go to a therapist hoping to hold onto all your crazy issues…so bring the same attitude to your editor, and get excited about the idea that someone is going to pay real attention to your writing, and help make it better.
  3. Invest in the relationship. If you’re working with the same editor over time, invest in building a personal relationship — or at least, a very cordial professional relationship. The better your editor understands your core passions, views and goals, the better he will be able to guide your work so that it advances your particular perspective and your career. And hey! It’s not all about you. Yes, you’re mostly talking about your writing, but remember that your editor is a person, too — so ask her about what she’s working on, what she did this weekend and what she’s thinking about.
  4. Know your triggers. We all have vulnerabilities — areas where we find it hard to take criticism. The more direct you can be about where your editor needs to tread softly, and where she can give it to you straight, the better you will work together. If you are open to pushback on your logic, invite her to challenge you; but if you hate being nagged about misusing apostrophes, let her know she can just fix your errors — without pointing that out to you each time.
  5. Learn your editor’s strengths. Different editors bring different skills to the table. Ania is amazing at teasing out the underlying vision for a piece and driving the revision process towards that vision; Scott Berinato has an uncanny ability to add the pithy line or headline that takes the whole post to a new level; Michael Totty is fabulous at situating a story in a larger context, and identifying the missing pieces that will help it speak to a wider audience or make a greater impact. Figure out where your editor shines and make the most of their support in that area.
  6. Use phone for vision, emails for summaries, comments for discussion and in-line edits for wordsmithing. Your editorial process almost certainly includes the exchange of electronic documents, but that doesn’t mean your entire working relationship should take place online. Talk with your editor regularly by phone, particularly when you are establishing the initial vision for a report or story, and again if either of you are suggesting significant changes to a draft. When you do send a draft or revision, use the covering email to explain what you are trying to accomplish in that draft, and noting any big-picture questions you have about your overall approach. Use your word processor’s comment function to raise or address questions about specific sections of the text, or to explain the reasoning behind any significant changes; when Ania and I exchange drafts, the marginal comments turn into a very detailed conversation.  The only un-commented edits in the text itself should be confined to wordsmithing; anything else should be accompanied by a clarifying comment explaining why you added a paragraph or how you’re hoping your revisions addressed your editor’s last round of feedback.
  7. Focus on content, not flow. One of the things that has made me a much faster and less stressed writer is learning to trust my editors’ judgement about the order in which my arguments flow. I try to focus on getting everything I want to say out there, section by section, but then let my editor suggest the order in which the sections make the most sense. A third party usually has a better perspective on how your argument needs to build; since all the ideas are already in your head, it may not be as obvious to you which building blocks need to get laid down first.
  8. Ask for help. Part of what makes an editor so useful on a content marketing team is that a good editor can save a writer or contributor a lot of time — once the writer learns to trust in their editor’s guidance. So wherever you struggle in your writing, ask your editor for help, whether that is in figuring out your core argument, choosing the right kinds of supporting examples or articulating your main points in a memorable way.
  9. “This doesn’t feel like me.” This is one of the most important pieces of feedback you can give your editor, if you use it sparingly. It’s not a trump card you can play whenever you want to revert your editor’s changes; it’s best saved for those occasions when editing has somehow led to an argument or a point you actively disagree with. It’s also something to bring up if you need to make a modest revision that makes the way something is said (but not what is being said) sound more like the language you’d normally use. Just bear in mind that if your strength lies in your ideas rather than your writing style, it may be a good thing if your contributions end up sounding more articulate than you do.
  10. Hit your deadlines.  Even if you’re an unpaid contributor, treat your editorial relationship with the same courtesy you show your colleagues or clients: agree on deadlines for each work or draft, and then meet them. You may not succeed in meeting 100% of your deadlines (I’ve got an overdue piece right now myself!) but if you’re mostly on time, your editor will learn to set aside time to review your work the day after you promised to submit, and you’ll get faster feedback. And if you’re not going to meet your deadline, let your editor know as early as you see trouble, and offer a new deadline that you can actually meet.
  11. Say thank you. Once you start thinking about editing as something that is done for you rather than to you, you can feel grateful to the amazing person who is actually investing their time and brain power in making your work as good as it can possibly be. So say thank you every single time you get their revisions, and let them know the specific way you feel they improved your work. And then once in a blue moon, write a blog post that acknowledges that you couldn’t do what you do without them.

Tweet if you like to procrastinate

I am always amazed at how much I get done on my focused writing days — the days when I leave the office and camp in one of the cafés or restaurants where ambient noise helps me concentrate and write, write, write.

But it’s not my word count that amazes me: it’s all the other stuff I get done while desperately trying to avoid the blank screen, daunting paragraph or elusive synonym. Here’s what a typical hour looks like:

10:00: Check email. Reply to four messages.
10:10:  Check Twitter. Retweet something.
10:12    Look at the document I’m working on. Read three paragraphs from my last writing day.
10:16   Check Facebook. Like something.
10:20   Check email. Reply to a message. Remember a related task, and add it to my task manager. Decide it’s easier to just write that memo memo right now, so quickly knock it off.
10:28   Look at my document again. Read another paragraph. Write two more.
10:42   Check email. Reply to a meeting invitation. Google to see if I can find a solution for the calendar syncing issue that’s been bugging me, and fix the problem.
10:48   Write another paragraph
10:57   Brainwave while writing inspires me to tweet something. Look at other tweets while I’m in HootSuite. See a few things to retweet, and schedule them to retweet later.

And so on. OK, so maybe this isn’t the textbook version of “focused” writing, but I am getting a good page written every hour. And while I’m at it I’m also catching up on email, restocking my Twitter queue, and troubleshooting my tech.

I’m such a productive procrastinator, in fact, that it makes me wonder why I schedule any other kin dog work day. If I can get all my tasks done on the days that I’m writing, why don’t I make most days writing days, and fit my tasks into these interstitial moments?

If it weren’t for meetings, I would. So if you have any thoughts on how to make meetings work in 5 minute, between-paragraph increments, please let me know.

8 ways writers can make the most of online video

I’m a text girl in a video world. At least, that’s how I feel as I type-type-type my way through these 40 days, while hearing all the while about how nobody reads anymore.  For this, I can thank YouTube.

YouTube launched in 2005 and in just 6 years has dramatically accelerated our transformation from a text-based culture to a video-based culture. I’m no enemy of the moving image, but I still prefer to absorb information in the form of text. I’d rather read a quickstart blog post than watch a 3-minute introductory screencast. I rarely check out the latest funny videos circulating on the Internet. And I’d much rather write a 20-page paper than make a 2-minute video.

All this conspires to make me feel like a dinosaur. It’s a funny feeling since I spend so much of my life pushing other people to face up to the reality of a social media world, to see the writing on the wall. The writing on my wall says: writing? really?

Happily, I’m not the only writer struggling to figure out how to make the shift to a video-based culture. There are plenty of useful ideas about how YouTube and its brethren can become a resource for writers rather than an enemy. Many of these can be a source of inspiration to anyone who works in a field that is challenged by social media; the key is to apply the same kind of creative thinking about how to turn your challenge into a new resource.

Here are some of my favorite ideas of how writers can actually benefit from the shift to video:

  1. Book sales are all about a human connection. If people know you and trust you, they are more likely to buy your book. Video is fantastic for creating an instant connection. When people see your face and your expression, when they hear your voice, they will make a decision as to whether they like you. The greatest proportion of communication is in non-verbal cues, which can’t be communicated in plain text. — Joanna Penn, 7 Reasons Why Writers Need to Start Using Video for Book Promotion
  2. Record events — not just presentations — such as book signings, poetry slams and book readings, panel discussions and teaching. You can use these as edit pieces for other videos. Also, if you do multiple events, these videos can give people an idea of what you have to offer. — Meryl K. Evans, 30+ writer uses for YouTube and video
  3. Motivate yourself for a writing sprint: “Give yourself a short increment of time (15 minutes) and force yourself to write non-stop for that length of time. Treat yourself to a bathroom break, YouTube video or piece of chocolate when you finish your time.” – Nicole Amsler, quoted in Overcoming Writers Block — How to Start Writing, Keep Writing
  4. Use video to learn about new revenue opportunities by tracking these 13 YouTube channels that are aimed at freelancers.
  5. Electronic books allow hyperlinking – instant jumps from one idea to another in another part of the book or in another work. This is the essence of true research: digging deeper in unique ways through layers of knowledge to create a new understanding. But it also allows hyper-story creation, where the reader shapes the outcome of a novel by making hundreds of choices along the way. In a visual TV-dominated age, expect many of these kind of “books” to become interactive soap operas or feature films with minimal text backed by fully animated cartoons or video sequences.  — Patrick Dixon, Future of Books and Publishing
  6. Get inspiration from watching authors talk about their work — or the basics of how to write yourself — in this list of 100 inspiring videos for writers.
  7. Don’t wait until after you’ve finished your memoir to start promoting your work. Video can help you build a marketing platform for your memoir (or any book), and that will be sure to impress agents and publishers….If you’re creating a memoir book trailer, you can build around the material in your book. If you’re book is still a work in progress, don’t steal from your book. Find a related topic that will interest your prospective audience. Then when your book comes out, they’ll be more likely to want your work. — Kendra Bonnett, 10 Tips for Using YouTube to Promote your Memoir (or Any Book)
  8. Have a laugh. There’s a reason so much of the attention on YouTube goes to humorous videos. People get regenerated by laughter, and that applies to writers. Here’s a YouTube video that you  may find regenerating — and which will help you better understand the phenomenon, too.

Diary of a yak shave: Or, How to get an Excel file into Scrivener

I need to write a draft document that borrows from my previous blog posts. A sane (non-techie) person might just write the freaking document, already. But that is not the Geek Way. So I’m now in the middle of an epic yak shave:

  1. Installed a WordPress plugin that allowed me to export my blog archive as a CSV file.
  2. Opened the CSV file in Excel and culled the irrelevant posts (in rows). Needed to clean out all the HTML.
  3. Saved the new CSV file and opened in a text editor.
  4. Tried to clean out HTML using search-and-replace with wildcards; didn’t work in my text editor, so I tried Word. Didn’t work in Word, so I tried a third text editor.
  5. Searched for a Mac program that could strip HTML, but only found PC options.
  6. Looked into online tag strippers; uploaded my file to one that didn’t work. Searched again and found one that worked via cut-and-paste.
  7. Copied and pasted the text into an online HTML tag-stripper to get rid of the HTML
  8. Copy & pasted the stripped text back into a text editor and saved as CSV again.
  9. Opened the revised CSV file in Excel, at which point I decided Excel wasn’t the right tool for reorganizing my posts into a new order.
  10. Researched a variety of note-organizing, writing and database software options, a process that briefly digressed into signing up for SpringPad (not the right tool for this job, but looks super cool)
  11. Selected Scrivener as the most promising tool for reorganizing my old posts into a new draft, because it has a corkboard that lets you organize files that then generate a draft.
  12. Discovered Scrivener couldn’t import CSV, so opened my Excel file in Word and saved my file as a .doc.
  13. Discovered Scrivener simply imported my file as one long document, not suitable for reorganizing; I’d have to import multiple files if I wanted each post to be something I could move around within the overall hierarchy.
  14. Looked for an Excel file-splitting tool, but discovered the only option was for the PC version only.
  15. Looked for a CSV file-splitting tool, but discovered that most posts and sites pointed to a PC-only tool.
  16. Looked for Applescripts that might do the job and found a couple of potential options. Each option required me to join a new forum, verify my account via e-mail, download the script, open and adjust the script, and then run it. Neither worked.
  17. Looked for Automator options; discovered my version of Automator won’t run because it’s out-of-date, and the new one isn’t available for download because it’s part of the OS (can’t imagine how mine ended up out-of-date). Asked Rob to copy his up-to-date version over to my Mac.
  18. Meanwhile, got home where we have Parallels Desktop set up on one of our machines, which lets us run Windows; maybe I’d just use the Windows CSV splitter. Parallels wouldn’t launch without an activation key; searched Gmail for the activation key, which didn’t work. Apparently at some point we upgraded to a now-expired trial, which we can’t buy a key for because it’s now deprecated. Downloaded a new trial. Now installing.
  19. Windows launched on our home computer, but can’t access the ethernet port. Rather than troubleshoot the connection, I’m downloading CSV Splitter to my Macbook and moving it onto the computer running Windows.
  20. Can’t get any file on the Mac side to move over or be seen by the Windows side. Trying a USB keychain instead.
  21. Well, I got the CSV Splitter file over to the Windows machine, along with the file to split, and got it running. But the application is designed to split MASSIVE files, not tiny ones; it won’t output a file with fewer than 100 lines, so it’s not the tool to split up my 128-line file. Sigh.
  22. Tried creating an automator workflow but couldn’t get it to run. The built-in workflows didn’t work reliably either, so I decided to try looking at Applescript instead.
  23. Checked into some options for using Applescript but got discouraged. Maybe there was another software tool I could use instead of Scrivener?
  24. Decided to see how my manually-created files imported into Scrivener. When I imported the files into the Manuscript section of my “binder” as opposed to the Research section, noticed an “Import and Split…” option. Gave it a try but it only split my files into 22, not 128.
  25. Read the Scrivener manual section on “import and split” and realized problem was caused by my csv file using a quotation mark as a delimiter — even though the text was itself full of quotation marks. Used SubEthaEdit to run a search and replace on
    ” [empty line] “, replacing each instance with a pipe character: | . It reported 122 replacements, which I figured meant that MOST of my posts got separated properly.
  26. Ran “import and split” in Scrivener on my .csv file (which I had renamed as a .txt file) and voila! I’ve got 122 notecards on my corkboard.

Now I guess I actually have to write the damn document…

9 ways social media can support your creativity

computer with brushes and paintsSome new mothers worry about when they’ll get to sleep through the night; I worried about when I’d get to write a novel. I’d always figured that I’d write a book some day, but now that I had a kid, would some day ever come?

For me, the answer lay online. Not in an online writing group: I felt far too protective of my writing to consider sharing it with people I’d never met. But I was brave enough to reach out to other local writers by using the web to connect.  I found a couple of other writer friends who liked the idea of starting a creative writing group for people like us: people who earned a living as professional writers or communicators, but wanted an outlet for personal writing. I created a simple web site that explained the purpose of the group, with an application form for would-be members. Once we had found our fellow writers, we used a Yahoo Group to run an e-mail list that let us schedule meetings, circulate drafts and store files.

Whether your creativity takes the form of a solitary activity like writing or painting, or is intrinsically collaborative (like theater or filmmaking) the web can help you connect to the people, resources and ideas that foster your creativity. Creativity often demands social connection: for peer support, for feedback, for knowledge, for collaborators.

The social web offers a lot of ways to capture, hone and feed your creativity:

  1. Find your medium. YouTube not withstanding, the web is still a text dominant medium. Blogging makes it easy for writers to find a creative outlet online; photographers have Flickr, and filmmakers have YouTube. But there are lots of creative projects that don’t fit inside these boxes, so you’ll need to get even more creative in finding your online voice. Take pictures of your canvases; shoot a video of someone interacting with your installation piece; film your play, tape your song, make your own music video.
  2. Engage another hemisphere. I rely on my netbook for writing – but I rely on my iPhone to spark my creativity. Not by serving up poetry or inspirational stories: by turning off the very parts of my brain that are key to my writing. When I hit a wall, I pull out my iPhone and plug into a game of Flight Control: an utterly uncreative, dangerously addictive game that involves landing planes on a tiny landing strip. A few minutes of Flight Control is so absolutely absorbing that it lets my creative neurons recharge until they’re ready to fire up again.
  3. Collaborate. My first adult forays into fiction writing happened spontaneously online. An online chat with a pal turned into an extended riff on a “what if” scenario, and within an hour we’d written our way into a story. Over the following weeks it grew into a manuscript, albeit one that we never published or even edited. But even in raw form, that collaborative writing process reconnected me with my writer self. I was far braver as part of a team than I was able to be solo; by collaborating online, I rediscovered the joy of writing and recommitted to writing on my own.
  4. Keep an inspiration file.“Things that aren’t even cats”. It’s a line from a Malcolm In the Middle episode that has become our internal label for “none of the above”. I’m not sure why we find it so compelling, but somewhere in that phrase lies the kernel of a story about organizing ideas online. And when the inspiration for that story hits, I’ll be ready, because I am religious about maintaining a list of story ideas in Evernote, an application that keeps my notes synced between my mac, my netbook and my iphone. Wherever I am, I’m always ready to jot down an idea or retrieve one.
  5. Talk it out. Sometimes the mere act of writing something down strips it of its passion – or feels like too big an obstacle. Text recognition services and software can help you brainstorm out loud, whether by writing full documents by voice, or just using a mobile service like Jott to make calls that will get transcribed and set back to you as notes.
  6. Relocate. When I want to do an intensive bit of writing, I have to get out of the house and out of the office. But I don’t need a quiet garret: I do best in a cafe with lots of light, and interesting people who aren’t too creeped out when I stare blankly into the middle distance that they happen to be sitting in. I’ve made it easy to dive into a day of cafe writing by buying a tiny, lightweight computer just for writing days; it’s always packed into a tiny backpack that’s ready to go with the essentials for a day of writing. (The essentials: computer, mouse, headset, advil, hand cream, nicorettes). And I use a couple of programs that ensure my writing machine can access any relevant notes on my primary computer: Evernote, which is my master notebook, and Dropbox, which lets me keep a folder full of files synchronized across computers.
  7. Find material. Artists are the world’s most incorrigible thieves. As anyone with a writer friend can tell you, everything is subject to appropriation: that quip you made at a party, the video of your first birthday party, the story of your most painful breakup. The social web liberates you from stealing from your friends’ lives, and opens the door on a world full of images, characters and experiences that are yours to borrow and embroider. Stay within the bounds of intellectual property law (i.e. no stealing someone else’s words, images or stories) and you can find all the real life material you need online.
  8. Remove distractions. The same computer I use for my creative projects also contains an endless series of distraction. My hard drive is never more organized than the day before a major writing process: I can procrastinate for hours by consolidating folders, renaming files and optimizing my software setup. To limit my techie procrastinations, I use a separate computer on writing days, and keep it as light as possible: I’ve deliberately minimized the number of software tools installed on my writing machine, and I use a low-powered computer that makes it hard for me to run distracting programs or do much geeking out. I also keep a separate, distraction-free account on my primary computer: if I want to write, I switch to my alternate login, which denies me access to the chat programs, email and files that would pull me out of writing brain and into work or geek brain.
  9. Expand your horizons. I’ve always been comfortable with words, and assumed that in some previous life I accepted the deal that my ability to write would come with an inability to draw a straight line with a ruler. My family is full of visual artists, but drawing stick figures appears to be the outside limit of my artistic capacity. Happily, I’ve discovered that online design doesn’t require the kind of eye-hand coordination that has always defied me: I’ve created photo collages, illustrative graphics and entire web page designs, and had a heck of a good time doing it. You may have a preferred medium, but trying out other forms of creative expression online – whether it’s making a movie, recording a song, or writing a poem – can help you discover other kinds of creativity in ways that fuel your primary creative commitments.

Are you an artist/geek — or a geek/artist? Or maybe even a techno-skeptic who has nonetheless found ways of harnessing technology to your creative self-expression? I’d love to hear about the  practices, tools and work habits that have helped you turn the social web into a tool for supporting your creativity.

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