My years in corporate communications taught me how to churn out copy that met deadlines and management messaging strategies. I built a career but lost my drive as a creative writer. Criticism came fast post-publication, but collaboration during the drafting process was absent. I was a solo operator and just kept stringing words together on the page.

When I switched tracks to enter the teaching world, I discovered the joy of working with students to improve their writing, and that is where I learned the fine art of giving feedback without diminishing the agency or damaging the honour of the writer. The product was always theirs—it had to be if they were to earn credit for the piece—but I coached and coaxed the best writing out of them that they could produce. The collaborative nature of the process was sometimes misunderstood (“You tore my writing apart!”), but the rewards could be very rich (“Thanks to your guidance our proposal won the award!”).

At its best and most productive, the writer/editor relationship is based in respect and unfolds as a creative process that aims to realize the full potential of a piece of writing. Every writer stands to benefit from the input of a qualified editor; however, many writers fear the process, because they believe that comments equal criticism equal failure. This is not true. When approached with skill and respect, the editing process is a learning journey for the writer and a rewarding one for the editor.

In my own writing life, I have friends, writers themselves, on whom I rely for honest assessment of my work in progress; I appreciate their comments that, broadly speaking, offer a thumbs up or thumbs down verdict. But it wasn’t until I started submitting my work to the Brevity blog that I learned the sheer joy of having a capital ‘E’ editor review my writing—and then work with me to improve the piece:

“Is this sentence needed?” she asked, referring to the opening paragraph.

“I’ve taken the liberty of removing some commas, but adding one here as you’ve been using the Oxford comma elsewhere.”

“I had to read this sentence several times. Can you simplify it a little?”

This is the language and tone of a writing professional approaching the critique of my work with skill and respect in the form of specific actionable comments. This was revelatory for me, because it meant that the editor—a stranger to me—was taking my work seriously, that my writing stood on its own merit, and that it would be published but still needed some work. I was ready to do that work, but when I read the editor’s fabulous comment in relation to one sentence and love this paragraph in relation to another section, I was ready to work my fingers to the bone for this editor-stranger. This is what creative collaboration looks like: The writer being open to feedback, the editor providing clear direction on what needs work while also offering forthright praise for what is already working.

That piece required (only) three drafts to reach the final version. Another submission, however, required a whole lot more—and it never would have reached that happy final stage without the input of the editor. I was working with a more complicated idea, so both my writing and my structure were convoluted, but the editor saw value and persevered with me:

“Need clarification here…”

“Confused….this doesn’t match up with what is promised above.”

“I’m losing my interest here because we’ve gone through too many iterations of the example; it’s circular.”

This time round, less forthright praise came from the editor during the revision process, but, in the nicest most supportive way, she urged me to persist:

“Do not worry about taking however long you need. I routinely take a good long break from an essay.”

I set the essay aside for a time and came back to it with a fresh mind. That break enabled me to stop merely tinkering and to undertake a bold reworking of the structure and the words. And it worked. I submitted the fifth draft as my final, and still it was not until the seventh draft that the piece was published.

In other venues, I have had the worst experience with an editor: my work returned to me, torn apart and marked up with a vicious red pen. Horrible. Confidence-destroying. And wholly unnecessary, in my view: A simple, This is not what I was expecting; please try again from the other person’s point of view would have given me enough to work with. When the editor is honourably engaged as collaborator in the process, the writer benefits—just as the birthing mother benefits from the skill and support of her midwife: The baby is the mother’s, but the birthing process is guided by the wisdom—and experience—of the midwife.

Every blank page is open to the truth, but doesn’t hold it until the writer fills it with words. Even then, the truth is probably not as polished or powerful as it could be, so the editor’s role is to join the writer as creative partner, to walk beside the writer while coaxing and coaching refinements from them that show up iteratively on the page as sharper, bolder renditions of that writer’s truth—the truth of whatever story they are telling. For this relationship to work, the writer must engage willingly and be receptive and responsive to feedback. The editor must provide specific and actionable comments, be supportive of the writer and respectful of the writing.

This requires courage and confidence on the part of both parties. The editor must have the courage to push far enough to help birth the best piece of writing possible—without breaking the writer, and the writer must have the confidence to push back when it’s too much. Ultimately, it is our work, but before it can reach readers as published piece, we benefit from an editor willing to coax and coach us up and over the hurdles of review and revision. When embraced as creative collaboration, the mutually enriching relationship between writer and editor is one of the very best reasons to put a new blank page into the typewriter (as it were) and to fill it with words. The writing process may be the joy of solitude, but the editing process is the satisfaction of teamwork.


Amanda Le Rougetel writes creative nonfiction, usually personal essays, three of which have been published in Canada’s Globe and Mail. Her work has also appeared in Herizons magazine, and in the Brevity blog. This is her first craft essay for Brevity. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where she challenges herself by writing fiction, blogs at Five Years a Writer, and teaches “writing as a tool for transformation” courses through Her editor on the Brevity blog pieces referenced in this essay was the splendid Heidi Croot. Amanda credits Tiffany Yates Martin for succinctly articulating an editor’s responsibility to the writer.