Tips from an executive editor

This week, I had the opportunity to sit in on a lecture by David Mills, who has served as the executive editor for two prominent magazines over the last 15 years. It was an incredible opportunity, and I loved learning from him! In today’s post, I’d love to share just a few of the tidbits I gleaned from him.

1. Writing presents the great temptation to be someone that you’re not, someone greater than you are. Don’t give in to that temptation; rather, write about things that you know, tell the truth, and humbly say only the things that you can say truly.

2. There is always a reason for keeping your head down and skirting the sensitive issues. If you can’t say what you want to say honestly, don’t take the assignment.

3. Make your claim straightforward and clear. Force yourself to say exactly what you want to say in a very direct way. (Hint: If you are stuck with a big idea and you can’t figure out how to narrow it down, try writing by hand.) You will have other chances to say what you have to say.

4. Write personally, but follow the rules. It is okay to use the first person and to tell stories, but it is not okay to try to invent your own system of grammar.

5. Make sure that you occasionally read writers you disagree with and engage their material.

6. Admit that you write with a cause in mind. It will make you a more honest writer, and it will make writing easier, since you won’t be trying to skirt the  issues.

7. Accept the fact that readers are annoying.

8. No matter how sincere you are, try to see through your emotion to your writing. What you have to say may be very important, but it won’t matter if you don’t say it well.

9. Work at becoming sensitive to idealogical and technical language.

10. Double check your own understanding of words. Sometimes, words do not mean what you think they mean.*

After hearing him speak, I can’t wait to read
more that Mr. Mills has written.
What are some of your favorite writing tips?

*See: The Princess Bride


It’s never perfect the first time

As an editor, I would love to think that any text I have scoured will be perfect when I give it back to the author. Yet we all know that nothing is ever quite as perfect as we want it to be.  No matter how many times I review a text, I will always find something to fix.

How did I miss “Spend some time everyday reading this chapter”? Clearly, it should read, “Spend some time every day . . .”

I know that choose and chose are not the same, but I can so easily skip the missing “o.”

I wonder if our ability to miss the same thing twelve times has anything to do with this theory: raeding bteewen the lteters.

Sometimes, I even re-edit my own edits, deciding that they really did sound better before I got to them.

How many times do you review a work before you finally let it go? Do you ever have editor’s remorse (the feeling that you just set a work free that still had too many errors)?

It’s hard to start at the beginning

I have been a professional editor for over two years, and I have been editing my life since I started living it. Yet for some reason, establishing an identity online has been harder than I imagined it would be. When you sit down to create a webpage, the rest of the internet is only a click away. If you avoid distraction, how do you begin to write?

When you write your first post, you are unsure. Can you just jump in and start writing about one of your soapbox convictions? Do you need to introduce yourself first?

This is my first post as MJRLawrence, editor. Words, languages, Jesus, friends, family, and teaching children big ideas using little words are a few things that excite me. I have passionately held beliefs, but I am not afraid to be proven wrong. Of the five states I have lived in, North Carolina is the coldest, but I married a man from New Jersey.  We named our dog after a hockey player.

I am currently reading On Writing Well by William Zinsser.