What should I do for an editing class?
October 11, 2021 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm leading an online seminar on editing for writers. It's a six-hour seminar total and we're going into the final two hours. How should we spend the time?

There's a wide range of writing experience and genres represented across the 12 students.

So far we've talked about nitty-gritty stuff like grammar and usage, as well as bigger-picture stuff like meeting deadlines and ways to catch your own mistakes (read a hard copy vs. the screen, read backward, read aloud, etc.)

For the final class, I was thinking to send them into breakout rooms of two or three people with a short-ish text (500-1000) words, have them edit it as a team, and then bring it back to the class as a whole to discuss the changes made and the reasons.

(In my mind, the text would have misspellings/homophones that are must-fix, but also clunky phrases that could/should be rewritten and might prompt discussion.)

The idea is not to turn people into editors or to give them all the answers. It's more to sensitize them to the kinds of things editors might be looking for and to encourage them to sometimes think like an editor for their own sakes.

If you've taken a class along these lines, what did it contain that worked for you? What can you suggest?
posted by veggieboy to Education (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You could ask them each to submit 1000 words of their own, which will be distributed among the others to edit and discuss in class.

In my experience (I'm a former editor), most writers are open intellectually to being edited, but in practice they're quite uncomfortable with it. Creating a safe space for being edited, and seeing how other "editors" engage with their work may open them to more playful or productive revisions on their own.
posted by cocoagirl at 12:21 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

Best answer: also clunky phrases that could/should be rewritten and might prompt discussion

What type of editing is this seminar for? Like you said, there are multiple levels of editing; a further level beyond individual sentences or phrases is "does this text convey to readers what it's meant to convey to them", "could the ideas be expressed more clearly", "is anything missing", "should anything be taken out to make the piece stronger", "is the tone the best fit for the audience/purpose", etc. I don't know if you have time to get into that, but it's also something you might ask them to discuss. At the very minimum, they should always be able to answer questions like "who is going to be reading this" and "what is the text supposed to do".
posted by trig at 12:50 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Way back in high school, I had an English class where we each had to write one paper a week on a rotating schedule (it was a small class). We'd make copies of our papers and distribute them to the other kids in class for them to edit, then we'd all discuss each paper. It was brutal but effective.
posted by adamrice at 1:03 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I teach undergrads and grad students in a social science-ish major, and I find that actually demonstrating and narrating out loud how I edit my own writing has been useful. "Oh, here's an unnecessarily long sentence, I'm going to break this into two." "I didn't get the subject-verb agreement right, let's fix that." "I'm really into parallel structure, so this is where I'm going to...." "I want to signal that this argument here is opposite to what was discussed before, so I am going to signpost that by using this word..."
posted by spamandkimchi at 3:20 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Same as spamandkimchi, I (writer) would love to watch an editor edit in real time and learn more about their thought process on a really specific way. I learn better by watching someone do something before trying it myself, so I would probably prefer a "demo" before the group exercise.

You mention genre, it might also be cool to see how an editor (you) would approach different styles of writing or edit for different audiences.
posted by athirstforsalt at 8:15 AM on October 12

In the book Keys To Great Writing, which is the best writing book I know of, there's a wonderful example of an existing poem (Hughes's Harlem) that the book's author has added words to in the first presentation of the poem. The exercise is to remove needless words. Once you've done this, you're presented with Hughes' actual poem to compare yours to.

Very useful, imo. Of course, you're not told that it's a Hughes poem (or even a published poem) at the start. You're just presented with the wordier version and asked to trim it. For example, I think the title of the poem in the book is "A Day In Harlem" or "Life In Harlem", whereas the actual title is "Harlem".
posted by dobbs at 6:58 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]

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