My first editor was TERRIBLE.

Which was GREAT for me.

My first professional full time writing job, in the heady dot-com gold rush, scared the crap out of me. But they hired me to write, so write I did.

I had all the qualifications they needed: new, cheap, willing to sit with subject matter experts, learn the software, and write it all down. I was eager to work on website copy and crank out monthly newsletters. I significantly improved the user experience by finally bringing documentation to their customer base.

My first editor sent back my draft with pencil marks all over the pages.

However, they knew nothing about the software, or the industry we were serving. The information was correct, the screen replications were character-perfect, and their degree was in English literature and granted more than 30 years in the past. They did catch a couple of typos, which did help. They couldn’t help being terrible — they didn’t know what to expect when editing a technical document.

That experience gave me the confidence boost I needed to keep at it, keep honing my technical writing skills and to learn more about the tools I could use to create user docs to help everyone.

My subject matter experts liked what I wrote, cheerfully helped me correct errors I’d introduced, and answered all of my questions. Our collaboration turned out a decent little document set.

Then I was done. The software wasn’t changing any more, as it was in a relatively immutable industry – there are only so many ways you can add and subtract and enter inventory for their customer base. So I moved on.

My second editor was FANTASTIC. Which was GREAT for me.

I was brought in as junior writer, shown the ropes, and edited by a subject matter expert who had been a writer for the software for years before I came along. I got great structural feedback, and grew as a writer for many many years, working with other subject matter experts who took their review duties seriously. These subject matter experts had also been trained by this editor, so I was able to learn in a well-oiled environment.

I never had any editors again after that job. The Great Recession removed the budget for full time editor headcount almost everywhere. So I learned the hard way how to do everything my great editor did: edit, critique, and teach writers and subject matter experts to edit and be edited. I even gave it away in booklet format for a while on my freelance website. Here’s the link for now, but I’ll link the revised edition when it becomes available.

What’s the best and worst editing experience you’ve been a part of?

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