We’re off to a great 2020 at WriterGirl. We’re especially thrilled to have a new full-time senior editor on staff — Wilson Diehl.
Wilson has worked with WriterGirl for a couple years, but when you learn her background you’ll understand why we are so thrilled to have her join us in her new capacity as a full-time editor. Her life is steeped in all things writing. Wilson’s dad is a retired English professor and her mom is a retired medical research librarian. Editing healthcare content and her role at WriterGirl seem fated.
All about Wilson
Wilson holds a master’s degree in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. The University of Iowa! You know, the best-known, most established writing program in the country. That’s also where Wilson began teaching writing, and she’s continued to teach at colleges throughout Seattle and at Hugo House, a nonprofit writing center that offers classes, workshops and literary events. Her own personal essays have appeared in The New York Times, Salon, Fit Pregnancy and elsewhere.
Before joining us, Wilson worked as a freelance editor for all manner of content from web pages to textbooks — most recently for Committee for Children, where she edited anti-bullying curriculum for middle schoolers. She learned about WriterGirl when she worked as a marketing and communications editor for UW Medicine in Seattle.
Wilson’s content editing tips
At WriterGirl, we value editing as an essential ingredient to creating great content. With Wilson’s experience and education, we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to get some content editing tips and insight on how to become a better editor. Here’s part of our conversation.
Q. What experiences help someone become a good editor?
A. Being a voracious reader, of course, is always a good start. For me, teaching English composition, rhetoric and other writing courses is where I really developed my editing chops.
Q. Editing is a broad, vague term that can mean different things at different stages in the writing process. How do you differentiate the types of editing?
A. There are so many stages of editing, from developmental editing in the early stages to proofreading and all the copyediting stages in the middle. What makes a person good at different stages or types of editing can vary.
Q. What skills do you need for different types of editing?
A. A good proofreader is very attentive to detail and needs to be more than a bit of a stickler. They are able to go through everything with a fine-tooth comb and exhibit a lot of patience.
Developmental editing requires a different skill set — to be able to step back and see the big picture with the audience, purpose and occasion in mind — what we called the rhetorical triangle back in my days of teaching rhetoric. Who’s it for? What is the goal? Where is it being placed? Will it be read on a phone, in a print magazine?
I enjoy all types of editing and very much like variety. I can switch hats from looking at a project in the early stages and providing feedback on the overall approach to a perfectionist mode that knows the difference between an en dash and an em dash — and the keyboard shortcuts for making them.
Q. With all the various levels of editing, how do you deliver what the project or writer needs?
A. Since people use different phrases when talking about their content editing needs, I prefer to ask questions to find out what they’re looking for. Are you wanting to make sure it makes sense and speaks effectively to the intended audience, or do you just want to confirm that all the commas are in the right place? Talking it through usually clarifies what they’re going for better than just a label since their nomenclature might be totally different from mine.
Q. A writer gives so much time and effort to a draft before it goes to an editor. How do you find the line between helping a piece be better and not reworking it too much?
A. It’s hard to get perspective on your own writing. As a writer myself, I try to be in the creative space when I’m writing and then switch to the editorial space when I revise. Trying to do both simultaneously can make your head explode. When I’m editing, I aim to make comments in the margin on what doesn’t make sense or point out a grammar or style issue if it’s coming up repeatedly. Then the writer can rework it themselves. Especially with medical content, I’m careful to defer to the writer who has done the research to be sure the meaning doesn’t change.
I very much value editors in my own writing. Editors make us sound our best. I feel protective of writers and their work and their voice. My role is to help them shine.
Q. Do you have any pet peeves about healthcare content?
A. I wouldn’t say I have any pet peeves, but I am always looking for plain language. When writers have been working on a project for a long time, we get acclimated to the terminology of the material we’re working with. For the consumer, it may be their first time reading about the topic. Many of the ‘jargony’ terms hospitals, doctors and the healthcare industry use all the time aren’t inherently meaningful to a consumer.
Q. What content editing tips would you have for those times when you don’t have access to an editor? How do you review your own work to be able to make it better?
A. Again, don’t try to create and edit at the same time. They take up different spaces in your brain. Do the writing, the more creative piece first. Then start back from the top and edit and then start back from the top again and proofread.
One trick I recommend is changing the font on your computer. It can help you see errors or omissions that your eye didn’t catch before. It’s also helpful to read your work out loud to hear how it sounds.
If you’re starting to feel like the content you’re writing is “just words on a page,” imagine that you will have a byline. There’s something about taking ownership that can elevate your writing and editing.
Q. If someone wants to enhance their editing skills, are there any resources you recommend?
A. Many community colleges and universities have continuing education extension classes and sometimes even certificate programs in editing. There are many options online also.
The New York Times has copyediting quizzes that I find fun because I’m nerdy like that. Also, exploring the Associated Press website and keeping up with the updates they send. It’s interesting to see what’s trending, whether it’s the spelling of the capital of Ukraine or how to style #MeToo.
I’ve tutored at community college writing centers with diverse participants, sometimes helping English language learners express themselves in writing. It’s given me empathy for all kinds of writers. People are willing to struggle because they have the desire to communicate clearly. Those experiences helped me arrive at where I want to put my career energy. As an editor, I am really supporting writers, polishing their work and helping them shine.
Welcome to Wilson as we continue to build relationships one word at a time.
Need editing support? Let’s talk. Drop us a line to learn more about how WriterGirl can make your content shine.