Letters from the Dorm: Why working with an editor makes you a better writer

Collaboration and good feedback are key to improving as a content creator

April Xiaoyi Xu |

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I signed my first written contract as a freelance writer, some 14 hours after my 18th birthday, with a widely-read international publication. On that beautiful April afternoon, I embraced adulthood with open arms.

By the time I arrived in Claremont, in the US state of California, I had earned a reputation of being perpetually and blissfully overcommitted. The wealth of extracurricular opportunities the five Claremont Colleges offered only served to fuel that reputation and, within three weeks of orientation at Pomona College, I had joined more than 10 student groups, including almost all the publications.

The one commitment that would become a lasting part of my undergraduate journey was the Claremont Journal of Law and Public Policy (CJLPP). I can hardly imagine what university would have been like for me otherwise. My relationship with the CJLPP was, admittedly, not love at first sight. It was not until my second autumn that I fell in love with the journal. When I did, it became my favourite activity there.

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That semester, I started working as a senior editor for the journal. Although I had done some editing work the previous semester for other journals, I mostly saw writing as a solitary process – where one gathers information, internalises it, and tries to communicate ideas clearly and effectively. The editor is there to facilitate this process.

It turned out that I enjoyed reading my assigned writers’ papers and providing feedback. One night, I shared the progress made by my writers and I with our editor-in-chief. The next morning, I found a late-night response from him in my box containing notes on a case in one of the papers I had shared with him, and a more-thoroughly edited version that contained responses to specific editorial aspects I’d questioned. I was moved by the level of self-driven research and thoughtfulness he had shown, prompted by my simple request for some guidance on my first editing task.

After receiving such feedback, I was inspired to expand my own philosophy on the writing/editing process: that writing is not a solitary activity. I realised that it is a truly collaborative process where the writer and editor learn from each other through points of contention. I decided that CJLPP was the journal for me to stick with and grow from.

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Throughout university, I strove to share my new philosophy with others. Journal work hardly felt like work – and often I found myself prioritising CJLPP tasks over others, procrastinating on homework to finish editing a paper. It brought me great joy to track writers’ progress over time.

I joined the journal in its second year of operation, and it has grown from a collection of experiments and ideas put forth by different cohorts. I have the greatest respect for this innovative spirit and am thrilled to celebrate its many successes, including the weekly digital content, the launch of the Intercollegiate Law Journal with our partner journals from across the US and Canada, and the CJLPP’s speaker series featuring experts and our own writers alike.

Thanks to studying contract law I learned that my first freelance contract was perfectly fair and enforceable. Even more fortunately, however, I realised my contract with myself to contribute to this vibrant community of writers, editors, and thinkers has been equally enforceable. I am looking forward to seeing the CJLPP’s continued growth over time as a proud alumna.

Edited by Ginny Wong