As December’s performance winds up (or down, depending on your POV) and January creeps closer to center stage, I'm ready to give in to the annual tradition of the yearly critique.
Even if the timing feels a little arbitrary, I like reflecting back on work completed (or abandoned), projects finished (or started), and goals met (or missed). And of course, my favorite sentient frenemy—the algorithm—is always (always) there to helpfully remind me of books I've read, music I've listened to, miles I've logged, and social media moments I've posted.
Most of us count on the relative success (and/or failure) of this reportage to jumpstart new-year plans for productivity. And if my inbox is any indication, 2019 is going to be The Year for The Big Project. It’s the year to Become an Artist, to Find a New Job, to Run a Marathon, and possibly, to Write a Book.
I capitalize to make fun, but I’m a productivity adherent (if not [yet] a practitioner): I am most definitely creating a Google Sheets tracker for 2019.
Happily, though, the zeitgeist also suggests that 2019 might be a year for doing things differently.
For once this doesn’t appear to necessarily refer to a plan or program or workshop or webinar or other delivery mechanism for efficiently maximized production. Instead, it seems to refer to actually doing less to reach normative notions of success.
I’m all for it, especially after reading David W. Orr’s words from Ecological Literacy, recently excerpted by Tina Roth Eisenberg on Swiss Miss. The world, Orr writes, “desperately need[s] more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind…It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world more habitable and humane.”
In 2019, I for sure want to take on more projects, make more money, and accrue some tangible success, but more than that, I want to be less quantifiably busy and more qualitatively engaged in peacemaking and restoration, in practicing the moral courage required to make the world more habitable and more humane. I don’t yet know quite what this means, but I do know that you should join me. Do less in 2019! But also do more.
In a previous post, we talked about the different kinds of edits that professional editors can provide. But what does the process of working with an editor actually look like? Again, it depends on the type of edit. Here, we'll focus on developmental editing (for nonfiction books and documents, our specialty).
A developmental (or substantive) edit typically happens mid- or late-process. This is to say that you've got a draft, but you need support to map the (best) way forward. Having a professional set of eyes on your manuscript at this point means that you'll avoid going further down the wrong path, or getting attached to ideas or rhetorical moves that don't ultimately benefit your message (or your audience). And if you've hit a stumbling block in your writing process, there's no better way to get around it than working with a developmental editor. A developmental editor's job is to suss out big-picture concerns related to the manuscript's overall focus, purpose, argument, evidence, and organization.
In the broadest strokes, a good developmental editor will help you hone in on your message, refine your audience, and determine the best structure for your argument. This means identifying areas for elaboration (or areas where you veer off track), suggesting changes to organization (such as rearranging chapters or sections), and evaluating your tone and mode of addressing your audience (for consistency and suitability). A great developmental editor does this andshows you how to implement these changes in your manuscript.
For instance, when an author brings us a manuscript about leadership and cites their audience as ‘everybody,’ we work with the author to determine who among ‘everybody’ will be most impacted by the manuscript’s message. We then help shape that message to reach those readers, and we use this information to inform the rest of our edit.
Ultimately, a developmental edit should leave you with clear and actionable feedback for improving your document. At MWS, we provide both a written narrative of our broad-strokes evaluation, as well as specific queries and suggestions throughout the draft, via the "comments" function in Word or Google Docs (depending on the writer's preference). For particularly tricky manuscripts, or for early-stage work, we also include a developmental outline keyed to the manuscript.
Working with a developmental editor is seldom a one-and-done interaction. Depending on the parameters of an agreement, our work may include subsequent rounds of review or other types of follow-up.
We LOVE developmental edits (both performing and receiving them). In our experience, the days or weeks you spend working with a developmental editor will save the (exponentially greater) time (and frustration) of spinning your wheels in the drafting process, or of ending up with a finished product that feels like it misses the mark. It may seem like a significant step to add—and it is—but there's truly no more efficient way to ensure that you meet your goals for a big writing project.
Words matter. And I’m not just echoing the sentiments in Dictionary.com’s choice for word of the year.
Or, I’m echoing those sentiments, but by way of framing a project we're working on about climate truth.
The research required to complete the project is powerful—it makes the stakes of climate change clear and tangible, and it also illustrates the impact of language and usage on an incredibly high-stakes issue.
Most people implicitly know that if language doesn’t exactly shape the world, it nonetheless shapes our understanding of ourselves and our shared experiences. The fact that this knowledge is implicit (which is to say that it goes unexpressed) just makes it harder to really grasp how words can change comprehension.
The impact of language is more explicit in political discourse. Take “truthiness”—a word coined in 2005 to describe the tendency among politicians (and others) to vacillate on facts when politically expedient. In 2018, the phrase “fake news” is preferred, although it is most commonly deployed to undermine information with which the speaker does not agree, regardless of truth value. Both terms work to define “misinformation,” but in opposing ways that can change the sense of what constitutes “the truth.”
When it comes to climate change, Dr. Genevieve Gunther, director of endclimatescience.org, argues that language has shaped "the truth" so as to prevent action. In “Who is the We in ‘We Are Causing Climate Change?'” Gunther points out that the use of “we” defines a collective in which everyone is assigned equal blame. The problem? This is demonstrably false: Millions of people—in America and elsewhere—have nothing to do with a structural reliance on fossil fuel and couldn’t affect meaningful change no matter how hard they were to try.
While the job of “we” in any piece of writing is to establish a collective identity, by doing so, it establishes a boundary that can be coercive and—in the case of climate change—completely unhelpful. Using language that ensures that everyone is responsible effectively disables any one person from pointing out that some groups (people and entities) are a whole lot more responsible…and have the power to make the kind of real change that many, many people want.
It's but a tiny word in the comprehensive ocean of language, but—like "misinformation" and "the truth"—"we" turn out to matter quite a lot.
English PhD, former arts administrator, obsessive cook, native East Coaster, and mom to two rabblerousers.
English PhD, former high school teacher, obsessive organizer, native Midwesterner, and mom to three troublemakers.