My best advice and the advice of many more sage writers than me — don’t put your editing pants on too soon.
Honor the time and place for the distinct characters involved in the writing process: the writer, the editor, and the intern.
When writing is your art or fiction is your thing, you can just carve your novel into the trunk of a tree if you want. But when you write for a medical practice, you need to stay on the page. Getting your message across in a clear and easy manner is paramount. You need the intern to help you get prepared, the writer to come up with the witty prose, and you need the editor to clean things up before you hit “Publish.”
Here’s how I imagine these characters:
The writer has flamboyant red hair threaded with beads. Her shirt has paint and peanut butter on it. She is really into astrology.
The editor wears glasses and has her hair in a tight bun. She may be hot in that sweater, buttoned all the way up, but you will NEVER see her sweat. She holds a ruler to smack the hand of the unruly writer.
The intern gets her clothes at Sears and most mornings she forgets to look at herself in a mirror. But she is organized. She does the research, creates the outline, and runs to get snacks for the writer.
All three have their role to play and need to be left to it. When the writer shows up too soon, the intern gets so flustered she knocks a glass of water onto the keyboard. When the editor pokes her nose in too soon, the writer gets depressed, full of self-doubt, and starts drinking.
Here’s my advice: Let your intern get her work done. Then freak freely as the writer. Finally, you can let your editor-self into the room.
As the editor, you need two things: rules and tools.
Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” ― Pablo Picasso
I keep this book on my desk for reference when I am editing. It is the style guide most used by journalists and large medical centers. You don’t have to use THIS one, but you DO need to use one. A style guide will help you figure out whether you should write January or Jan., five or 5, boulevard or Blvd. Keeping the style consistent makes writing more professional and easier to read.
Sit down some time and read this cover to cover. It is a thin book written in a nice clear style (that would be ironic if it wasn’t). This book is widely recognized as the authority on the foundations for writing and editing well.
Keep in mind that William Strunk died in 1946, and E.B. White first published a version of The Elements of Style in 1957. The English language is always evolving, and the way we speak and write now has changed since then. That is why I recommend this book. It is a fun read that will help you spice up your writing and remember who your audience is.
I think it’s fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tool we’ve ever created. They’re tools of communication, they’re tools of creativity, and they can be shaped by their user.” — Bill Gates
We editors today are lucky, lucky, lucky. With a whole slew of computer editing software now available to help us, we can pretend like we know what we are doing more than ever before. These apps are available online, on your phone, for your Mac and your PC. My favorites are Grammarly and The Hemmingway App. They help you find overly long sentences, OVERLY used adverbs and excessive use of the passive voice.
A word of caution: these software programs can’t completely replace a good human editor. I like to think of them as a really smart grammar nerd who is kind of socially awkward and doesn’t always get it. Use them as a guide but don’t let them have the last say.
Step away from your work once your draft is done. Give yourself a chance to change your mindset from writer to editor. This time will give you clarity and a fresh eye when you next approach your writing.
Read out loud. Imagine you are reading to a patient. You will hear odd phrasing that you hadn’t read. This is also the time to look for things like jargon that your patient may not understand.
Read backward. I use this method when my brain is on the fritz and I don’t otherwise trust it to catch my typos. I find this one hard to do, but it can be very evitceffe (get it?).