What I actually do probably isn’t what you think I do

By Lauren Edwards

Q: Tell me more about your work — do you ghostwrite or mostly edit/proof? (From a Twitter follower)

A: I mostly help people learn how to *develop* their own compelling content. So the emphasis is on pre-writing, critical thinking, audience analysis, identifying storytelling elements and mining for hidden news value — that sort of thing.

I teach people to restructure their drafts altogether, so that they don’t resemble what they learned in school. (Essays have their place, but not in a world of information overload.)

I show people how to prioritize the psychology of the reader. We all do a lot of skimming these days, right? So, how do you structure a document for a skimmer? When should you *make* them read and when should you help them *skip* the right things? How?

I encourage business professionals and other writers to “tell the story out of order,” give away the punchline, juxtapose unlike items for contrast and subtle tension, and reduce word count by editing content, not words.

I share principles and criteria that make these kinds of decisions logical and objective, rather than subjective, so that writers can repeat success without repeating what they wrote before, even when they lack sleep or are just generally off their game.

I am happiest when creating new classes that solve problems that people weren’t sure could be fixed, like …

  1. We need to explain to technical staff that we’re trying to broaden their audience. Can you give us vocabulary and theory that will help them understand why we’re writing in a way that’s not familiar to them?
  2. We need tools to bridge the gap between senior staff and junior staff. Agency VPs and above have trouble remembering what they once didn’t know about business strategy and client counsel. And junior staff don’t know what questions they could be asking about the bigger business picture. When they meet in the middle, the quality of work rises — and everyone is less frustrated and much happier.
  3. Our engineers speak to outside audiences but get caught up in details that go over people’s heads. Can you show them techniques for capturing lay people’s attention and inspiring action, in addition to straightforward information-sharing?
  4. We want people to be self-aware enough to raise their own standards when editing their own work, especially for complex assignments.
  5. How can we meet tight deadlines when the people who are supposed to provide the content don’t get back to us until the last minute?
  6. Does our writing voice fit our audience? Why are we good at reaching one kind of audience but not another?
  7. Our staff are seasoned professional writers but sometimes they to shake things up and see their work with fresh eyes. What would you recommend?
  8. We have to re-purpose corporate content for social media, but it comes out in the wrong tone and lacks energy. How can we fix that?

Usually, the problem isn’t bad grammar. But people reach for that complaint because they don’t know how to articulate their discomfort and don’t realize that line-editing won’t fix what’s wrong. It’s better to look for root causes and take aim at the thinking that precedes the writing.

As I like to say, “Good writing is good thinking made manifest.” 

In my workshops,  I don’t critique or line-edit. I don’t ghostwrite or copyedit. I listen and devise new ways to help people see differently.

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By the way, I’m now booking for spring 2019. Let me know if you are thinking of giving workshops to your teams starting in mid-March, so we can get that conversation going and I can pencil you in.