Editing: Hammering out good writingBY NANNY ELIANA
A very experienced editor of a weekly news magazine once told me over dinner, "You can't make writers. They either have a knack for it or they don't but you can improve the good ones."
My knack for writing was apparent even when I was just a child.
At the tender age of six, I took to playing with my father's typewriter which led me to making my own 'books' by stapling the typewritten sheets together and then 'selling' them to my cousins and sister. I was also a voracious reader - I often wish that I still had the patience and more importantly the time to read as much now as I did as a teenager.
At 14, I was one of a handful of young writers selected from several schools by a now defunct student publication to write commentaries and even celebrity interviews; I was once tasked to cover a Jon Bon Jovi press conference. Being effectively bilingual, I often translated these same stories to Malay and pitched them to the editors of the local Malay paper, Berita Harian, where they were often published.
Many people thought that I had a natural gift with words, and never needed to be edited, but the truth is I would never have been able to write professionally or creatively if not for my teachers and later, my editors helping me along and guiding my talent. A natural facility with words is just the ore from which teachers and then editors forge and then temper good writers.
At 14, the editor of my student magazine returned my first typewritten draft - which I handed in with great pride - with red crosses and circles and 're-do', 're-phrase' and even 'what is this?' written in the margins. I am sure you can imagine the impact of such criticism on a 14-year-old.
Complaining to my parents was not an option, so after sulking for a while, I re-wrote the draft based on the editor's instructions. The next time I saw the article, it occupied half a tabloid page, with major revisions only in the standfirst and the third paragraph. From then on, regardless of which publisher, advertising agency or PR firm I was writing for, I took the red marks on my drafts as opportunities to improve my skills.
These days, technology has lifted practically all barriers to entry where writing and publishing is concerned. Some popular bloggers brag about not having to be logically sound, grammatically correct or factually accurate to communicate to the masses.
If the blogger knows how to milk the public's attention - with crass dress sense, digitally enhanced portraits, or whatever else to that effect - there is a chance that his or her readership will increase to such an extent that huge FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) companies will fight to pay him or her large amounts of money per product advertorial - expletives and grammatical mistakes inclusive. Who says you need to be edited to be a successful writer?
The truth is I would not trade my training for anything. Unlike some bloggers who are compelled to outdo themselves with loud, sensational gimmicks to stay in fashion, good writing and editing skills stand the test of time and get better with age and practice.