It’s a conundrum that all editors face at some point – how can you improve your editing skills when you don’t know what your strengths and weaknesses are?
It’s difficult to know just how well you’re editing when there’s no benchmark to check yourself against (aside from the sample commentaries in the Polyphony H.S guidebook), especially for editors just starting out. And even for experienced editors, it’s always important to gain some kind of feedback on your editing and commentary.
Weak areas in editing aren’t and shouldn’t be seen as negative – it just means you haven’t perfected certain subsets of editing just yet. Personally, I always felt that my commentaries were lacking in some way, but it was difficult to pinpoint specific categories to improve in. So how do you recognize those areas if you’re not even sure that what you’re doing is right?
The most practical thing any editor can do is learn all they can about writing from the outset. The more information and advice that you have about writing, especially the technical side of things, the better you can understand each submission. You’ll soon learn what works and what doesn’t, and truly understand some seemingly cliche writing tips – for instance, “show, don’t tell” or “avoid adverbs and adjectives.” These exist for a reason. They’re generally recognized as effective methods to improve and strengthen writing.
Beyond that, just read – the more books you read by different authors, the more you glean from their style, voice, and narrative structure. Don’t just read your favorite authors. Read all different genres and styles to help foster your creativity as both a writer and editor. Observing how established authors write, both fiction and nonfiction, helps to formulate your approach on commenting on other people’s works.
If you find a book that you particularly enjoy and admire, then think about why you enjoyed it. Was it the beautiful descriptions? Did it create a cast of relatable characters? Was it the rawness and simplicity of its approach to a difficult topic? Was it the thrilling pace? Did it immerse you in a different world?
All of the elements that help you formulate an opinion about the books that you read are the elements you should pay attention to when dealing with submissions.
Editing workshops (yes, Polyphony H.S offers workshops!) are another way to help improve writing. Logistically speaking, they’re not for everybody, but they are a source of valuable feedback and support, because you are surrounded by fellow editors, and their combined experience can benefit you greatly.
Make sure to check the compiled feedback that all editors receive from those higher up on the editorial chain.
Lastly, but certainly not least, remember that there’s always simple practice you can do to refine your skills. Edit and edit and keep on editing. The more you edit, the more progress you make. Eventually you'll become attuned to your writing, so you'll soon become aware of what works and what doesn’t, you’ll spot those weak areas before they become a problem, and you’ll slowly learn how to strengthen your writing.
Remember that nobody is perfect, and that even experienced editors have their own personal areas for improvement. We’ve all started at the bottom, unsure of how to write specific commentary, how to organize general commentary, how dialogue works, what show and tell means etc…but then we learn, we grow and develop and ultimately, we improve.