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Creativity in Editing: A Good or Bad Thing?

by Andrea Lundgren (originally posted on

This is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog-hop, designed to help encourage authors and foster discussions about writing topics across the internet and the world. This month’s question is, “Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?”

This is actually a very applicable topic, because my other main creative outlet—editing and book coaching—has been one of the reasons my blog has gone silent for so long.

Now, when most people (myself included when I was younger) think of editing, they think of grammar evaluations and a glorified spellcheck, to where the editor is basically proofreading and correcting mistakes, nothing more. But as a copyeditor, and especially as a book coach (someone who asks questions when your book doesn’t make sense and offers feedback about what works and what still needs some polish), I find that I actually get to offer creative input to the authors I work with.

I may suggest moving a scene or paragraph in a different location, changing the wording of a line for artistic flow (or logical sense), or elaborating on a particular narrative thread—say the friendship between a couple characters or the characters’ emotional feelings in a particular section, working to show it rather than tell it. In the end, the book’s appearance and story can change quite a bit, and I know my creative input has helped make that possible.

Of course, it doesn’t make me the author, a co-author, or anything close to that. The author is still running the show, and they can (and often do) disregard my suggestion and stick to their original vision, and that’s fine—but at least I’ll have done my job in helping them evaluate their options so they can make an informed decision before they “go to print.”

Obviously, creativity in editing can also be a problem, though, An editor who overhauls your story is an editor you don’t need, subverting your artistic vision and sterilizing your stile in favor of being “grammatically correct.”

So here are some things to consider when looking for a copyeditor or book coach:

Editorial Tone. Many editors and book coaches will offer a free sample, up to a certain word count, so you can see how they operate. When you get your sample back, consider the tone of the comments. Do they come across as a know-it-all? Do they make you feel bad for writing the way you did in the first place? Do they seem to be offering suggestions, their comments worded in such a way that if you don’t follow their advice, they won’t be relegating you to the seventh circle of writer’s hell? Ideally, you want someone who knows their stuff but is open to your artistry, even if it means some sentence fragments on occasion (yes, I did just say that).

Blog Posts. If the editor or book coach keeps a blog, read a few of the articles to get a feel for the persons’ personality. Do they seem to have a sense of humor? Are they strictly professional to where they sound cool and distant? And how is the grammar of their own writing? If they aren’t professional enough to write clearly on their blog, it raises the question of whether they’re going to be like that to work with, too (not that an editor has to be perfect, but their writing should inspire you with confidence that they know the writing industry and how to form a clear sentence…if not, how are they going to help you?).

Past Clients. You should be able to find out who the author has worked with before to where you can email them and ask them how their editing experiences went. Most editors keep a list of past clients or client testimonials, and most authors maintain a “Contact Me” section on their website, to where you can ask how things went without going through the editor you’re thinking about working with—that way, nobody feels pressured. You can also usually ask the editor for references from other authors and get the information that way.

Past Projects. If you want to know, first hand, what an editor does about certain kinds of artistic decisions, you can always look at the past projects the editor has worked on. Do they all seem to have the same writing style, or do different styles shine through? Do the rules of grammar seem to be slavishly employed or do the documents show flexibility? Ideally, you want an editor who is comfortable with a wide range of styles, as those editors will probably be familiar with a greater variety of artistic tricks and genre expectations and can help advise you accordingly.

Ideally, your editor can be a sounding board for ideas and inspiration, to where they help foster your own creativity and help you make your book as strong and interesting as it can be without imposing a lot of rules and expectations that don’t fit your artistic vision or goals.

Happy writing!

Guest post contributed by Andrea Lundgren. Andrea enjoys books and all things writing–from how we write to why we write–and her blog explores things from a writer’s point of view.

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