The Music of Words

I hate to point this out, and those of you with sensitive natures may find it shocking, but most freelance writers strive to produce a publishable story while investing the minimum amount of time researching, drafting, revising and polishing it.

This is a sensible, cost-effective strategy. Our magazine pays writers based on the word count of a published piece, not on the number of hours they devoted to preparing it. The fewer hours spent on each article, the higher the hourly rate of pay. This is not a bad strategy—but writers who use it must have the skill to pull it off.

Those who don’t are wise to invest time to gain that skill. The hourly pay rate may be lower, at the start, but devotion to craft pays off, and I mean that literally. Editors can tell when a submission is not a writer’s best work. We wince as that writer then rushes through the editing process with a minimum of attention to changes. When I assign the next story, will I choose that writer, or someone who delivers a polished first draft and works closely with me throughout the editing process? It’s an easy choice.

Don’t get me wrong: I like coaching writers. I don’t mind editing a workmanlike but rough draft, as long as the writer sticks with me to make sure the final version is representative of the best work he or she can do. Editing is a partnership.

For writers who find the editing process tedious, here’s my question: Can you hear the music in your words? A good editor can help you discover it. If you can’t be bothered to listen, why write? There are other, far more lucrative ways to make a living. If you don’t care enough to tune your work as attentively as a violinist tunes a Stradivarius—if it sometimes seems, to you and to the editor, that they care more about the melodies in your work than you do—maybe it’s time to pick another profession.


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