how to be a better editor

How to Be a Better Editor: Be Direct But Be Kind


I’ve learned a lot in the 10 years since I got my English degree. But the most important lesson?

Good editing is a gift. A good editor is priceless. When you find one, hang on tight and soak up everything you can.

Lindsey Donner is one of those good editors. As executive editor for The Community Company, she helps the company’s members (entrepreneurs, business leaders and big thinkers) turn their ideas into great content.

I’ve worked with Lindsey through the Young Entrepreneur Council, and I’m always impressed at her team’s thoughtful editing.

I asked Lindsey for her advice on editing, coming up with fresh ideas and managing content-powered communities.

Tell me about The Community Company.

At The Community Company we build and manage communities for global brands and media companies. As executive editor for the company I lead our growing (psst: we're hiring!) editorial department, where we work hand in hand with members to help them edit and refine their thought-leadership content.

You manage content by and for entrepreneurs. What do you love about working closely with entrepreneurs? What have you learned from them?

I joke to new hires that working at The Community Company is like getting an MBA for free, but it's true. We have the unusual opportunity to help brilliant, successful subject-matter experts communicate their insights to millions of readers. I feel very lucky that our members trust us to be part of the editorial process. But the entrepreneurs and professionals we work with haven't just taught me the nuts and bolts of business; their drive makes me want to be a better editor and a better leader.

After working on one content theme for a while it's easy for the ideas to feel stale. How do you stay inspired and find new ideas?

I think the trick for anyone feeling bored in the content business is, counterintuitively, to read more. Get out of your rut. Go read some great long-form journalism about a totally unrelated topic. You may think what you're looking at is not "relevant" to your work, but the connections are there. Those breaks are the moments when your best ideas strike.

How have you improved yourself as an editor over time? How have you learned to empower and improve people as writers?

Read, write, get edited, repeat. Great writing (and great editing) is always part of a larger conversation. To write well or offer great editorial feedback, you need context.

Next, work with other editors who are stronger than you. Editing is a craft. You don't go to college or J-school and come out an editor. Ask for feedback and listen to it at every stage of your career.

As far as empowering writers, simple: Be direct but be kind. Getting editorial feedback is a vulnerable experience. Be aware of that. But it's important to remember William Zinsser here too: "Thinking clearly is a conscious act that writers must force on themselves." People are so scared to write that they fail to remember that thinking is the first step. What are you trying to say? Start there.

Walk me through your content tech stack. 

The G Suite is our go-to for so many things. As our team grows, live editing and updating spreadsheets and notes in the cloud is as important as ever. Asana and Slack are what keep us on the same page and in touch regardless of time zones. We also use a mix of WordPress and custom content-management systems to work on content and deliver it to partners.

What are you reading for fun right now?

I just picked up “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee, and I'm in the middle of Gabriel Tallent's “My Absolute Darling.” I'm also making my way through “Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables,” a cookbook by Joshua McFadden. I like to have a few things going on at the same time.

Lee Price is managing editor of Managing Editor and content marketing consultant at Rep Cap. She's a proud University of Virginia fan, Twizzler enthusiast and feminist. She lives in Georgia with her husband and two young daughters. When she's not reading or writing, you can find her on Twitter @leevprice.


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