Want to Be a Better Writer? Get a Peer Editor

We writers struggle with ego. Like most creatives, we are neurotic and unpredictable. Sometimes, we can get an unhealthy attachment to our work. As a result, we fail to become the best we could be. All because of pride. How do we break this nasty habit? Get a friend to help.

Peer Editor
Photo credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis (Creative Commons)

This should be someone bold — a person who will call you out and hold you accountable. Not just a copy editor to watch for typos, but someone who will tell you you could do better.

But most writers won’t do this. They’ll think they’re good enough on their own. And they will be deceived.

Most writers settle

They coast on “good” because they can. This is what talented people do: they procrastinate and settle for less than their best. Usually, it’s due to laziness. But “good” isn’t good enough. You want to do more than maintain the status quo, right?

You want to be great. Because you’ve got something amazing to say. Something that will change people’s lives. If they only took the time to hear it. Don’t you?

Isn’t that why you started writing in the first place — to say something worth listening to? (If not, you might reconsider your motivation. Or just quit now.)

You need to grow

In order to earn the right to speak to your audience, you need to develop you craft. Being “pretty good” just won’t cut it. You need to be awesome.

In order to be a great writer, you need an editor. This should be someone who will tell you the truth about your writing. They need to not blow smoke up your butt.

You need a person you can trust. So that when this person criticizes your work, you know it’s not to tear you down, but to build you up. Sometimes, this is the only way we grow — with the help of others.

Ask a peer for help

For a good editor, I suggest a peer — someone who knows you and your work well enough to speak into both. This person should be someone you respect and trust. You two should be able to stand each other.

At the same time, you don’t have to be all “buddy buddy.” Your editor needs to be able to be honest without having to face the consequences of losing an important friendship.

You need someone who is bold and blunt. But they also need to understand you. So it can’t be a stranger. You need an editor who will challenge you to write more than a first draft. Because the first draft is usually crap.

This person is different from a simple copy editor; they’re a friend, confidante, and trusted advisor.

We can all get better

We need to come off our high horses and humble ourselves. We need people who will force us to set aside ego. To stop settling and get better. For the sake of a message that deserves to be spread. We need a community to encourage us.

We need help improving our art. And the only way that happens is when we let go of our pride and listen to others.

So do what you’re afraid to do: get an editor. And get on your way to becoming great. Which, of course, applies to a lot more than writing.

For more on peer editing, here’s a helpful guide: Guidelines for Peer Editing

Do you have a peer editor? How does this person encourage and challenge you? Share in the comments.

58 thoughts on “Want to Be a Better Writer? Get a Peer Editor

  1. I just signed with an editor. I told her if I wanted someone to tell me how much they loved my work, I’d call my mama. She took me on.


  2. I have an awesome peer editor for my fiction writing.  He listens to what I want the vision to be, and then holds me to it, sometimes nitpicking about word choices that don’t fit the style/tone.  He’s right about 95% of the time, and close the other 5%.  Getting someone to look at your grammar is only one step.  The content and presentation matter more, and having someone help me refine that is a huge blessing.

  3. Loved the post Jeff!

    I have my best friend, my husband as my editor, and as both of us are freelance writers, it helps us a great deal. I think it does work wonders for us.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. I tend to use my wife, but I wonder sometimes if she’s too close to what I’m writing. However, she edits papers all the time for her job as a work study, so I trust her to be open about what she sees when she reads what I write. 

  5. I just found mine. She’s local too. And I plan to be buddy buddy, because I know she won’t hold back anyway. 🙂 Thanks Jeff! Hope the roads are good out in Franklin. Enjoy your no-snow day.

  6. Oh yeah — this is something I’ve been slacking on, but until I asked two of my closest friends to edit my work, it proved to be one of the best moves I ever did.

    One of them is the editor — searches for grammar mistakes, confusing sentences, etc.

    The other views my work from an outside perspective. He tells me when my writing is veering off subject, if I’m throwing too much all at once.

    With the combination of both, I was able to find my major flaws, fix them, and move on.

    Definitely one of the most effective and powerful ways to become a better writer, and to really understand your writing voice. (Sometimes we try to sound too much like our favorite authors)

  7. Yes to this. I think the most important part is that the person is honest, in a kind way. I’d rather have honesty and do the work than someone tell me it’s great just to get on with it and it be mediocre. 

    How do you cram learning the craft while simultaneously having to write on a deadline? You know what I’m talking about! 

    By the way, I always appreciate your honesty (even if I cry afterwords). Kidding. Mostly.  

  8. Recently I got myself into my first critique group and I have learned alot. I especially like hearing theor point if view on the plot and pacing. And hearing how yhey feel about the characters. It os very enlightening.

  9. I don’t feel I need a peer editor, because there are a bunch of problems in (many or most) of my writings that I can see myself. It’s just I don’t usually spend the time to iron them out, so then I just “ship” drafts that I’d have a lot to quibble about if I were someone else’s peer editor and that person would have handed me those very drafts for review.

    So my editor, I suppose, would only toss my work back at me and tell me to fix the obvious stuff I was simply too lazy to fix, such as, for instance, simplifying overly long and complex sentence structures (like this one) and cutting 2,000-word blog posts down to, say, 500, as very few people will settle down in a comfy chair with a nice cup of tea to peruse a 2,000-word disquisition on a blog—well, I don’t need an editor to tell me that, and if I post such pieces  anyway, my problem isn’t the absence of an editor who’d rather predictably advise me against it. 

    In other words, I’ve usually got plenty of flaws to fix before I’d feel the need to appoint an editor to find new ones I may have overlooked. With one exception: English being my second language, I should always have a native speaker review what I wrote and alert me to passages where my accent comes through, i.e., that don’t quite sound the way a native speaker would have phrased them. Because no matter how well you learn a language later in life, it’ll never be truly “yours” like your mother tongue. To this day I sometimes stare at a sentence I wrote and ask myself, “Does this sound English?”

  10. Would love an editor. My husband thinks everything I write is wonderful. My daughter looks for comma errors and sometimes gets brave enough to tell me something doesn’t make sense. But I’ve no one else to ask. Got advice for finding the right person?

  11. I’ve an old friend who’s an excellent writer. So she’s,  “someone who knows you and your work well enough to speak into both.”

    I just asked her to assist me in this role a couple of months ago. And I’m so glad I did. What a huge help it is to have another set of eyes. She’s willing to both affirm my message and prompt me to publish when I’d rather not and correct what I’ve the inability to see.

  12. So true.  Especially the bit about the editor knowing both your work and you. I’ve got a great friend who keeps me true to my intent.  Sometimes I think he sees my “big picture” better than I do, and when I forget the song of my soul, he sings it back to me (metaphorically speaking) and gets the writing back on track.

  13. I don’t have one specific peer editor and sometimes getting me to share my work takes some pushing. However, I once had a friend read one of my own pieces aloud to me and there was a huge misplaced modifier (to the point where it could have been read that someone was eating someone else’s face) that I never would have noticed had he not read it.


  14. This is so true. Especially the part that you need someone who will tell you the plain & sometimes brutal truth about your writing, that’s the only way you’re going to grow & improve your craft. I have a couple of people who not only are fantastic writers in their own right but also are great editors for my work. They don’t try to mess with my voice; they just fix what’s wrong. 

    Which brings me to the most important point, IMO, of your post: “This person should be someone you respect and trust.” That makes a huge difference as I’ve worked with editors before that I was on the fence about, either their approach or their abilities, and I tended to smile & nod then ignore what they had to say. The ones I trusted and respected, I listened to every single time. Turns out, they were almost always right about what needed to be improved in my writing.


  15. Yes, I definitely have one of these. I am a terrible speller! Which seems like an odd thing for a writer, but it is true. My editor friend also tells me if I am weak. If I am getting off topic or if my metaphors are mixed. Maybe I have too many metaphors. Ironically I learned the gift of editing when I was doing my Garden Design internship. Some things just don’t go together and have to be cut from the design. A Magnolia fights with a Canadian Hemlock. Yes, they will both grow in this area, but it does nothing for a cohesive design. What is your theme? What are you going for? The same thing with writing. Anyway, my editor reads everything before I post. Good advice.

  16. This is a golden piece of advice. It can be tough though. Learning how to develop our art by listening to somebody de-constructing it can be painful. 

  17. Boy, ain’t it the truth! I soooo stifled my growth as a musician because I worked in a vacuum and wouldn’t reach out to others. It was the weirdest thing – I’d write, play and produce stuff for public consumption, yet felt it was too “personal” to share with an individual. I’m sure not making that mistake this time as I pursue writing!

  18. Writing is a communal activity. It needs to be rehearsed to a private adviser before being shared with the masses. As a form of communication, dialog and evaluation helps shape the work. Their is wisdom in the counsel of many. Nice post. Totally agree.

    Of course, finding an unbiased adviser you TRUST and who will tell you the TRUTH isn’t easy. Another writer’s ego can get in the way of their feedback as well. Or, their love for you as a writer can keep them from telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Good luck.

  19. Yes, we can all get better.  But you peer writers stop being so critical ok.
    I try to write about the same way I speak.  I think people make too much of minor grammar errors when we had a president who spoke like he was in a bonanza episode or something. 

    People all over the country are the same.

  20. Good post! I have a “blogging buddy” whom I trust implicitly, has great insight, and mad writing skills, but sometimes I have a hard time getting constructive criticism (or any) and I end up feeling like my feelings were being spared! I want the truth! 

  21. One writing friend and two other writers I met at a recent writer’s conference are about to form an on-line peer editing group. We will rotate submitting our writing for critiques, which will be done via e-mail. We’re also going to have discussion times through conference calls.

    I’ve been looking for such a group for a while. It’s exciting to see how God is helping the group to fall into place.

  22. As a professional writer, I’ve had a peer-review system in place since Day 1. It’s a huge benefit. It goes beyond just proofreading: it delivers understandability backed by two pairs of eyes. Not only do I build a better product as a result, my clients benefit from the added peace-of-mind that someone has already done the added legwork to ship something that’s refined and polished.

  23. I already have a few of these. They’re my friends and they can be brutal when it comes to criticisms. haha. but that’s the way I like it. 🙂
    prevents me from getting too complacent.

  24. Thanks for you rpost Jeff.  Very insightful.  Planning on launching a book this year and the proofing will be real important.  Hope I can find the right person for this.

  25. If it wasn’t for my other writer!friends I wouldn’t be half as good a writer as I am today. Obiously, there are still things I don’t catch before editing, but right now my plotting and characters and pacing is soooo much better than it was four years ago! I try to give back to the community and provide beta readings for people when I have the time, in hopes I’ll be as much help to them as my friends has been (and still are) to me.

  26. Jeff, I am a truly blessed individual. My peer editor happens to live in my home (and she doesn’t let me get away with incomplete or murky thoughts and ideas). My wife is a top-notch freelance editor (several of the authors she works with have won prestigious writing awards–five for five at the 2011 ACFW conference). If she says it’s good, I believe her. If she says, it needs work I know it needs work. She speaks the truth and I love her for it.–Tom

  27. Thank you! I smiled and nodded as I read the first two sentences. I’m one of those who protect my writing material like a mother bear protects her cubs. I have shown some of my writing to people I’ve trusted, but only a handful. I’ve found someone though, that has worked at a publisher, going through manuscripts. So I’ll use her. She is not a personal friend, so I believe she will be honest. She knows what to look for, and I trust her. I think. 
    Well thank you for this tip!
    Aina, Norway

  28. I sent my rough draft to three trusted friends yesterday. Well, this was after I sorted through it a few times and let my husband comb through it as well. I’m eager to receive their feedback bc they are all great writers.

  29. The peer editors for my ebook do not exactly fit the description 🙂 🙂

     But they are all I have for now.

    And I believe I did a pretty good job on my first draft. 


    Thanks for the humbling 🙂

  30. I have a couple of friend that write.  We trade off manuscripts and are really really honest with each other.  The back has made me so much better.  Being that honest isn’t easy, it is a gift and I amo those who have given it to me.

  31. Although I’m a freelance editor myself, I still need an editor myself. I have
    a great writers group plus some trusted writer friends who tell me what works and what doesn’t. They are all essential to the process.

  32. JEFF thank you as I said on my previous comment I will start today calling my self a Writer’to my friends I have a few clever ones’ they will demand to see my work’Automatical I will find myself a peer editor among them’ now I understand meaning of peer editor. Thank you again.

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