Thinking Ahead 3: Mentoring Writing and Self-Editing

For the past several years, I have run a business called “Pen and Paper Mama Services.” For the main part, I have done tutoring and editing, plus some writing, workshops, author website consulting, and other similar activities. But as I reached the grand age of 65 in the summer of 2020, I am now considering how I can take on some new directions in my business and in my life. Over the next few blog posts, I will share the research I have been doing on various alternatives—and I’d be happy to have readers share their thoughts and input in the comments. Thank you! The following are the topics I’ll be covering:

  1. Coaching
  2. Mentoring
  3. Mentor writing and self-editing
  4. Mentor tutoring
  5. Specific services I am considering offering

Mentoring Writing and Self-Editing (vs Editing)

What is the difference between a regular editor and a self-editing mentor? Are both needed?

What does an editor do?

An editor is usually hired by a writer for a limited time period, to help improve a writer’s work. There are different levels of editing, including developmental (“big picture/planning” level), structural (organizational), substantive/stylistic, copyediting (aka line editing), and finally proofreading. You can find details about these different levels HERE IN THIS BLOG. These kinds of editing tend to be more formal, with a hierarchical editor-client approach (though some editors are also quite relational).

Depending on the writer’s needs, editors may work on a manuscript after one, or even several, manuscript drafts. Some editors specialize in one or two levels; occasionally, an editor may help a writer throughout the entire writing process, through multiple drafts. There may be direct teaching of skills to solve particular writing problems (encouraging the writer to learn from the editor’s tutoring, especially in editing early chapters or from a sample edit) and apply the new knowledge/skills to the rest of the manuscript. Some writers will hire an editor to go ahead and “fix” the manuscript; however, in this case there is a fine line between editing and ghost-writing or co-writing. Editors in the copyediting and proofreading levels will help writers work on a manuscript that already has been through multiple drafts and is quite well done; at this point, the editor is helping make the draft complete and polished.

Editing is usually done within a limited time frame; some editors will go through a full manuscript, then return it to the writer for another draft, after which another edit or proofread may be done. Other editors will do back-and-forth editing (e.g. chapter by chapter) with the edited chapter being returned to the writer for more work on that chapter, and applying new skills to further chapters before editing. Extra editing levels, drafts, or improvements are generally charged separately from the original edit. Payment is usually made in close proximity to the editing time (e.g. part upfront, part during, and part at the end of the edit).

What does a writing- and self-editing mentor do?

The number one goal of a self-editing mentor is to encourage writers to improve their writing skills and ability. Rather than stepping into the writing process once a writer has completed one or more drafts, a mentor is available from the start of the process until the work is published. This might sound like a developmental editor, but mentoring is a more relational process with a focus on empathy, encouragement, accountability—and most of all, guiding a writer (client) to become an excellent writer and self-editor, so that when it is time to hire an editor, it will most likely be a copyeditor or proofreader, as the writer will have, through many drafts and much self-editing, created a manuscript that needs only a final “polish” before the publishing stage.

Writing and self-editing mentors help writers develop new skills and knowledge that reflect the mentor’s own experience and expertise in writing and editing. While the mentor will analyze the writer’s current skills and abilities, and provide some direct tutoring to solve writing problems, the goal is always to encourage writers to self-develop, and thus to themselves become excellent writers and self-editors, then apply those new skills to future writing works as well as to current projects. The mentor encourages the writer to become a “lifelong learner” with the ability to keep on developing as a writer in the future. While the mentor may take on some editorial roles, such as pointing out areas that need improvement and providing specific skill tutoring, the goal is to help writers take ownership of their writing.

Mentoring writing and self-editing is not just about writing “skills” but also, importantly, about “being a writer.” A mentor role-models the writing life through personal experience examples, and in the process helps writers self-analyze their own life, digging deep within to determine why they want to write, what kind of writing they want to do, and who they want to write for; how they can adjust their life routines to provide writing time and energy; how they can overcome procrastination, lack of self-confidence and other personal issues that interfere with their writing; and more. Writers learn to self-educate, self-direct, make important personal decisions, build a writing and self-editing team, network with other writers, and find resources (e.g. writing and self-editing tools, instructive materials, courses and workshops, and people resources such as editors, designers, agents, and publishers) which will work well for their personal needs and goals. Mentors also help writers think beyond themselves and their personal writing goals and dreams to think more clearly about their target audience—the readers for whom they are writing. They learn how to take the point of view of their ideal readers, and then aim to make the experience of the readers as enjoyable, fulfilling, and powerful as possible.

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