I spent a number of years writing and trying to sell screenplays to Hollywood. Scriptwriting is a collaborative process. Before a movie finds its way onto the screen, it has gone through multiple rewrites. In addition, producers, directors, actors, editors, cinematographers, and musicians have provided input and changed (improved!?) the original script.
Screenwriting is intentionally collaborative. But I believe that all writing should be collaborative. While you are the sole author, your writing can benefit from collaboration with readers, reviewers, and editors during all steps of the writing process.
First off, writing is a two-way process. Unless you are writing diary entries, you are writing for readers. That implies collaboration. Your job as a writer is to answer your readers’ questions. You may know their questions. But many times, because you are so entrenched in the subject, you may not come at it from the readers’ point of view. So brainstorming questions with potential readers is a good way to start the writing process. This seemingly extra collaborative step can save you time down the pike. It gets you headed in the right direction, so you spend less time rewriting.
The answers to readers’ questions provide the framework for your first draft. Now it’s time for the second tier of collaborators—reviewers. Your organization may have a formal review process. Perhaps colleagues or your supervisor provide comments and feedback.
But outside of the formal process, consider an informal review. Find someone unfamiliar with the subject matter and uninvolved in the project who comes to the review cold. Can your “cold reader” understand what you’ve written? What unanswered questions does he have? If your document is technical or scientific, your cold reader might not understand the details, but he should grasp the message and main points. If he doesn’t, work at simplifying and honing your message so that you don’t need a PhD to get the essence.
At this point, you're ready for editorial collaboration. I’m surprised at how many people have a friend or a family member—child, parent, spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend—review and edit their writing before they submit it. Often these aren’t professional editors but people who “are good at” finding chinks in the structure, fine-tuning grammar, and spotting typos.
People are often reluctant to acknowledge this unofficial editorial support. But there is nothing unprofessional about it. I’m lucky to rely on my E-WRITE partner Leslie O’Flahavan to review my writing. By the time I’ve gotten to the final edit stage, it’s hard for me to spot grammar and usage errors. So I welcome the fresh eyes of a good editor. It also helps that I’m married to a fifth-grade spelling bee champion.
If you’re not lucky enough to have family or friends to collaborate on a final review, it’s worth “friending” someone with the editorial skills you need—a person whose writing you admire or who always catches errors in grammar.
Enlisting editorial support throughout the process will improve your written product. When it is ready to submit or publish, you'll feel confident knowing that your document has been thoroughly vetted.
Look for an upcoming post on how to review a document and give useful feedback.