Chip’s Writing Lessons #86 Craft Lesson: 10 Resolutions for Editors by Steve Padilla

Craft Lessons

Steve Padilla is editor of Column One, the showcase for storytelling at the Los Angeles Times. Padilla joined the Times in 1987 as a night-shift police reporter but soon moved on to editing. He has edited a wide variety of subjects—including politics, international news and religion—and helped guide the Times’ Pulitzer-winning coverage of a botched bank robbery in North Hollywood in 1997. He serves as a writing coach and devotes his Twitter feed (@StevePadilla2) to writing technique. Before the Times, he was a reporter for the San Diego Union and editor of Hispanic Link Weekly Report, a national newsletter on Latino affairs. He earned his B.A. in print journalism and history from the University of Southern California.

Usually, Steve creates New Year’s resolutions for writers. For 2023, he devoted them to his fellow editors. He’s generously allowed me to reprint them here.

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Editors by Steve Padilla

No. 1: To read every word of a draft before making changes. (Yes, this is hard. But if time permits, a good practice.)

No. 2: To give your writers something good to read–to inspire them with fine style, structure or storytelling—and then to talk with them about it.

No. 3: To allow or encourage your writers to use a sentence fragment to emphasize a key point or to vary the rhythm. Just because. Really.

No. 4: To focus on structure before diving into the words.

No. 5: To give specific direction. If an anecdote dawdles, don’t say, “Speed it up.” Pinpoint the wordiness or say, “Start in the middle of the scene.” In a court story, must we say the judge walked in, sat down and banged the gavel? Start with the gavel.

No. 6: To remember that not all your edits work. That doesn’t mean, however, that the writer’s original wording worked, either. You’re probably right that something’s amiss even if you can’t fix it. Solution: Find a third way, preferably together.

No. 7: To set up a Slack channel in your newsroom devoted to writing. We have one at the @latimes.

No. 8: To remember that positive direction is often more productive than negative. Rather than say, “You buried the lede,” I like to say, “This is so good we gotta move it up.”

No. 9: To suggest your writers take the Padilla 30-Word Challenge. When they think their story is “done,” trim 30 words. Not 50, not 150. Just 30. It’s surprising how this habit gives a piece some extra snap, crackle and pop.

No. 10: To take care of yourself. And since editors don’t get thanked enough, let me thank you now. Speaking of thanks, hat tip to @mkballinger and @jaclyncosgrove for No. 1 and No. 4 of this thread. Happy New Year, folks, and may the words flow in 2023.

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