I just finished my first textbook editing assignment and have some thoughts about writing. (Also, yes, I’m alive — just a bad blogger.)
There is no virtue to being a good writer, but there is virtue to following instructions. As your editor, I don’t care if you’re a fantastic writer. If your words plod across the page without inspiration, that’s perfectly fine. It’s my job to take what you’ve written and make it easier to read. But, fortheloveofGod, follow the instructions. If the Writer’s Guide says to write in third person, write in third person. If the chapter needs sub-headings, write the sub-headings. Know what’s expected inside and out and pride yourself on producing work that only needs to be edited for its grammar and structure. Follow the instructions and no one gets hurt.
Writing is only as strong as its content. I remember laboring under the disillusion that I just needed to make my writing sound a certain way — to come up with a voice — but I’ve realized that good writing first needs a compelling message. In the case of a textbook, the content is clearly king and my work is to facilitate clear understanding of it. If the content comes out rough at first, that’s fine. But don’t drone on using empty platitudes and listing endless adjectives just to fill up space while you nervously sense you’re overextended. A reader can sense fluff like a bloodhound on the hunt. Stop, think, read, rewrite.
Avoiding outlines and organization at the beginning of the writing process only leads to misery. I’ve monologued about outlines before. My bias is out there for you to see. When working on a personal writing project, I suppose it’s okay to use whatever method (or lack of method) that’s preferred. But, when writing content that will be vetted by multiple editors please, please use an outline of some sort. I will be able to see the outline reflected in the work and understand what you’re trying to say that much better.
And, I saved the most important for last, if you quote Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in your work do not misspell Bueller.