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Using editing prompts: reminders of the editor you want to be

Post-it note star

Until last week, I had a flimsy yellow post-it note stuck to my desk, and on it the following words appeared:

You LIE down on the sofa. You LAY the book down on the table.

I wrote this little reminder to myself earlier this year while I was preparing for October’s IPEd accreditation exam – my main professional development activity for the year, getting my editing practice back into shape after several years of being comfortably in the groove of my own editoral habits. That simple note, scrawled in my southpaw handwriting in a quiet moment, provided a daily reminder of a tiny area of my editing knowledge that had never quite clicked into automatic.

And you know what? Although the post-it lost its stickiness and has gone to the great recycling bin in the sky, what it said remains very much in my mind. I can even see my handwriting looping the “l” of “LIE” and “LAY”, as it tends to do. The thought is there whenever I need it.

It’s a minor example of an “editing prompt”: a small-scale but powerful tool, if you like, an editor’s equivalent to the writer’s creative prompt.

Your editing prompt is the small voice that asks “I wonder why that word always escapes me?” or observes “I really must remember to check why I think this is the right expression in that context.” How often do you write down that thought, to return to it and check that the knowledge or approach it draws on is falling into place, slowly but surely? I’ll fess up first: I don’t write my prompts down often enough.

Here’s my idea: turn that thought into an editing prompt. Remind yourself of its importance while you’re making coffee. Keep a little note on your desktop for whenever you glance that way. You may well find the prompt quietly settles into your editorial repertoire before you’ve even noticed.

So let’s give this a try. I’m going to suggest an editing prompt every couple of weeks, here at the blog. Each prompt will be a quick and simple affirmation, something aspirational and practical, all at once. Think of it as the equivalent of that scribbled post-it prompt, shared among editorial friends.

Are you up for it? If so, let me know what editing affirmations you like to keep around you when you’re working. If you’re any good at aphorisms (I’m not), feel free to send me your pithy suggestions and I’ll round them up in a future post. It doesn’t matter how corny, as long as they work for you.

I’ll leave you with my own current editing prompt, which has grown from my awareness that I don’t always challenge myself enough to help authors feel listened to, understood, and appreciated, because I’m usually trying to bully persuade them to do stuff for me on time. Here it is:

Author care is just as important as author management.

Until next time, happy editing and publishing.

Image © Ntcandrej | Dreamstime.com

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