by Jim Sollisch
A good editor makes a good writer’s writing very good. A bad editor gives your writing a haircut with a chain saw.
And as a copywriter at an ad agency, I work pretty much exclusively with really bad editors. It’s not fair to call them editors; they are my clients, often marketing managers or communication specialists. Many have MBAs and are brilliant at so many things. Writing not included. They’ve had the English knocked out of them. Now, they speak Power Point. Worst case scenario, my work is edited or critiqued by the legal department or by committees.
It’s the same for so many professional writers. Public relations writers have their annual report copy “edited” by corporate executives or their minions. Technical writers have their work “edited” by engineers. And if you buy a corporate speechwriter a drink, be prepared to hear about the horrors of writing for the tone deaf.
We professional writers aren’t precious little literati. We know we aren’t authors or artists. Most days we’re witty sales people. On our best days, we’re storytellers, craftsman. We do care deeply about language. We want our words to dance to a particular rhythm.
One of the tools we use is repetition. Unfortunately, it’s the tool most despised by bad editors. Charles Dickens would never have gotten his most famous sentence through the corporate communications specialist. The edited version would read like this: “It was the best and worst of times.” A savings of four words that makes sublime into subpar.
At one point in his “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. starts eight sentences in a row with the words, “I have a dream.”
And then near the close of the most famous speech in American history, he starts six sentences with the words “Let freedom ring.”
My clients would sit Martin down and take out a big old thesaurus. They’d help him see that “dream” could become “vision” in certain places. In others, “idea” might work. But mostly, they’d just insist that he find new ways to start sentences….