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Q&A: What is the best editing advice you've received?

By Kruthibha Duraisamy


Edit as if the piece is yours.

This one piece of advice allowed me to start crafting commentary that encourages the writer’s creativity and gives them solid critiques.

And the one who gave me such meaningful advice? My mom. After a late night of editing and one innocent question of “Is this too nice?”.

The answer she gave me was “I don’t know. Would it help you if someone said that to you?”.

That single, easy-to-disregard statement changed everything. How would you feel if someone said that to you? Would you be able to understand exactly what needed to be fixed after reading that or would it still be unclear? Would you still feel encouraged to continue trying or would you just be embarrassed and intimidated? Would you feel like it was too vague and unhelpful?

It may seem obvious, but it truly changed my perspective on editing. It is easy to write nice little compliments in every sentence, so the author is not sad. It is also simple to write exactly what you think, no matter how harsh it is. The difficult part is creating a balanced piece of commentary. But, blending what you believe should be edited with what you thought stood out, you can accomplish this.

So, write what you think! That’s what authors most want to hear. What you thought every step of the way, not what you think they want to hear. If you were going over your own piece before submitting to an important application, would you tone down your comments so you don’t feel bad about yourself afterwards? Probably not.

Also think about what the writer’s message was while reading. Why did the author choose to write a fiction piece over a poetry? I usually go through a piece of fiction looking for a story to develop and a thematic message for a poetry piece.

Before you grade each submission, go through each of your comments and read them aloud. Make sure no matter how it is said or read, the message comes off clear and helpful.

If it is a compliment, I always make sure it is one I would like to receive. If it is a recommendation, I always make sure it is easy enough to understand and I explain in enough detail so that the author can easily make corrections.

You never know the author’s exact personality and background, so rather than taking a shot in the dark to match the commentary to the person, match it to yourself!

In other words: follow the golden rule and treat others how you want to be treated.


Kruthibha Duraisamy is a Junior Editor at Polyphony and a blogger at Voices.

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