Two months into my new role as Editorial Director for The Gospel Coalition Australia, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the ministry of writing and editing.
Mentoring Emerging Writers
It is an amazing blessing to be paid a good wage to write and help other Australian Christian writers to write. One aspect of the role I was looking forward to was working with newer writers. The role of an editor is partly a ministry training and mentoring role: providing constructive criticism and specific positive feedback, boosting morale and encouraging writers to fan their gift into flame. I love being able to celebrate with a new writer (whether young or old) when their piece is published on the site. Sometimes we get to celebrate still further if the piece attracts specific positive interaction on social media or a re-share on The Gospel Coalition USA site or somewhere else.
I hope that many of those first-time contributors to TGCA have such a positive experience that they are motivated to write more and submit again. I hope that some of them might even take their writing ministry in other directions: to serve their local church, to contribute to other Christian or secular websites and journals, to start their own blog or newsletter, perhaps even to write a book one day.
The Ministry of Writing
The ministry of writing is quite an accessible ministry, through which men and women in a diverse range of personal circumstances can minister to hundreds and thousands of others around Australia and the world. Although most of our articles have the same number of readers as a moderately successful Australian Christian personal blog, the diversity of readers reached through TGCA is significant. Every now and then an article will attract a much larger readership and my guess is that this happens more frequently and on a larger scale with the TGCA site than with most personal blogs.
There is another benefit to writing for the TGCA website, which differs from a personal blog, Substack newsletter or Twitter feed, regardless of the simplistic website analytics. Writing for TGCA is contributing to a communal publication. When you publish with TGCA you are joining together with over two hundred other writers and adding to a growing backlog of around two thousand articles. It is too utilitarian to describe this simply as a ‘resource’ or as ‘thought leadership’, although it is both these things. It is a cooperative effort of thinking out loud regarding the ancient truths of God’s word, the current challenges of life and ministry, and the shared experiences of the Christian life. I trust that this is both useful in a narrow and immediate sense, as well as formative in a wider and enduring sense.
Collaboration: The Editorial Process
The editorial process is a collaboration. It can be challenging at first to have someone scribble the Microsoft Word Tracked Changes equivalent of red pen all over your work. To be honest, for some of us it never stops being challenging! The goal of an editor is to help the writer express themselves as clearly, accurately and effectively as possible. This may involve changes ranging from basic grammatical and spelling corrections through to structural changes and alterations in wording. I may edit a piece to remove repetition or ambiguity, or to add qualifications or explanatory asides or headings or footnotes. I work within the inescapable frame of my personal taste, while aiming to respect the distinctives of our individual contributors. I seek to make our pieces persuasive, engaging, even beautiful. I hope TGCA can be a home of true, clear, useful and good quality writing. As the Editorial Director for TGCA, I am also responsible for the theological and pastoral dimensions of each piece: scanning articles for theological imprecision or pastoral clumsiness, in keeping with TGCA’s Foundational Documents—both our Confessional Statement and our Theological Vision for Ministry. Along the way I try my best to be on the lookout for errors of fact, conflicts of interest, copyright infringements and so on.
The experience of having your work edited can feel a little like hearing a recording of yourself—is that really me? Many of us find it unnerving and intrusive. For those of us who are very confident in communicating in other contexts—in business writing, informal writing, academic writing, or writing sermons or workshops—it can also be a jolt to receive a different kind of feedback. But for most of us it does get easier with practice.
It is inevitable that as an editor I will leave my mark on the pieces I edit—just as Samantha Dunn, Geoff Robson, Emma Thornett, Ian Carmichael and Tony Payne have all had a significant impact on the two books I have published with Matthias Media; just as Andrew Moody shaped my contributions to TGCA when he was the Editorial Director. But I am confident that the voices of our contributors can still be heard loudly and clearly in the final products; I dare to hope that often enough I leave them thankful for the changes I have made. I am certainly very thankful for the hard work of my editors and the great patience and respect they have shown to me over the last few years.