You are not alone: Know when you should run your writing by someone
Those of us writing on the web these days have a level of freedom inconceivable just a few years ago. Millions of us are our own publishers, and even those who write on sites owned by others—such as Bleacher Report’s writers—often post their writing online without it being seen first by editors.
That can be a scary thought. Bleacher Report writers don’t exactly operate without a net. B/R’s squadrons of editors are right behind you, going over what you’ve published soon after it goes live. But poorly conceived copy doesn’t need to be online long to cause trouble.
That’s why it’s sometimes smart to take a few extra moments before publishing your story and have someone you trust read it.
If you’re breaking down what to look for in tonight’s NFL exhibition game or something, there’s probably not much risk in hitting publish. But if what you’re writing has any chance of offending people, of being taken the wrong way, of making you look stupid or boorish or ill-informed, run it by an editor, a fellow writer, a friend, someone you trust to be a smart, active reader who won’t just rubber-stamp their approval of anything you write.
About 10 years ago, my editors at Salon had me start publishing my daily sports column directly to the web, without going through an editor. This was unheard of at the time for a professional news organization that prided itself on the high quality of its writing. Publishing straight to the web without benefit of a line edit was something those bloggy blogs in the blogosphere did.
But I had been the copy chief and an associate managing editor before I became a columnist. I had 15 years in the business. My copy was clean and my judgment was good. The bosses trusted me.
I still checked myself all the time, though. For example, if I mentioned race, even in the most offhand, benign way, I’d have someone else read it before I hit publish.
As a writer who publishes directly, you have to develop a sixth sense about what you should double-check. Find that person or those people who’ll tell you that the joke doesn’t work, that the sarcasm doesn’t come through, that you’re not being fair to the person your criticizing, that what you just wrote might be taken the wrong way by some people, or will be hurtful in a way you might not have intended.
Last week, this Blog ran a Quote of the Day by novelist Steven Galloway: “If you don’t allow yourself the possibility of writing something very, very bad, it would be hard to write something very good.”
What that means is that a good writer takes chances, swings for the fences. When you swing for the fences, you’re more likely to hit a home run but you’re also more likely to strike out.
Be aware of that risk when you’re swinging big. Realize that you’re “allowing yourself the possibility of writing something very, very bad.” Enlist a friend who can save you from doing that before it’s too late, and if your friend’s a writer too, offer the same service in return.