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Embrace Edits

To succeed as a professional writer, a person has to learn to embrace edits. That's not something a writer necessarily wants to hear, but it is the truth.

A disgruntled refrain from a colleague once was "legal has it." She'd write a great press release only to have the legal department tear it apart. The corporate lawyers had no interest in grabbing the attention of the media; they were solely focused on assuring that every statement in the press release could be defended in a court of law.

The hurdles that most professional writers must surmount are not quite as challenging. Still, I'm surprised by how many want to defend every word or phrase as if their careers hung in the balance. I've learned over the years that if one person stumbles over, or has a problem with, a particular word or phrase, others will as well. Invariably, it's better to come up with another word or phrase that satisfies everyone.

Recently, I was writing a release about a new guidebook for genealogists. In the release, I referred to 19th century migrants. One reviewer was concerned that readers would equate "migrants" with today's migrant laborers. We agreed to use the word “settlers” instead. It was a simple change that insured greater clarity.

Letting go of a beloved word can be hard. I once had the delicate task of explaining to an author that referring to New York City as Gotham would confuse modern readers. Yes, back in the eighteen hundreds, one of New York's nicknames was Gotham, but today's reader is more likely to equate Gotham with the fictional city of DC Comics' Batman series.

The harder task is when you learn that your 500 word article has to be cut to 350 words. Or a video script has to be shortened by thirty seconds. Many a writer has struggled valiantly to cut extraneous adverbs and adjectives and to rephrase concepts without the destroying the context or meaning. Sometimes you realize, somewhat ruefully, that the finished product is actually stronger.

Are there ever edits that are absurd? Of course. Are there times when you want to scream because a "higher-up" suddenly decides he wants to change the entire focus of an article? You bet. Still, for the most part, the editing process is about crafting a truly well-written piece that clearly and effectively communicates its message. It can be challenging, but it's worth the effort.

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