Erin Kurup, Editor & Idea Architect for Care-Fueled Entrepreneurs

Erin Kurup, Editor & Idea Architect for Care-Fueled Entrepreneurs

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This post is part of my Project Profiles series. In it, I ask clients of mine about their experience editing digital products or webpages with me. You’ll hear about their project, what advice they’d give fellow small business owners thinking about working with an editor, and more. Read the rest of the series here.

Like Shanna, I’ve know Joel for a long time. He was one of my first clients, and we’ve worked on several projects together. Our most recent undertaking was his ebook, Experience Curating.

Meet Joel

Joel ZaslofskyJoel is the Chief Simplifier and Curator over at Value of Simple. He quit his cushy corporate job in March of 2012, two years after a powerful personal renaissance shook him awake. He now spends his time helping people simplify, organize, and be money wise. And when I say helping, I mean it — Joel is one of the kindest, most helpful people I know.

In addition to writing articles for his own site and plenty of others, Joel also hosts the Smart and Simple Matters podcast and recently co-organized the first-ever SimpleREV event, a community-building experience that brings together simple-living enthusiasts from around the world.

In short? Joel is a cool guy with a big heart and a serious love of (and knack for) connecting with others. He’s also an Excel nut. All of those traits shine through in Experience Curating.

Meet the Project: Experience Curating

Experience Curating is the title of Joel’s ebook, which is available through Amazon. It’s also the name of his particular brand of curating, which he lays out in the book. As Joel explains it, Experience Curating is “part mindset, part framework, and part process that empowers you to recognize, capture, organize, and share your most valuable moments.”

I love how Joel talks about why he wanted to write Experience Curating, so I’ll let him explain:

“I wanted to take something historically significant — curating — and apply a fresh, holistic approach to what has traditionally been boring and academic. To show readers that it’s worth spending a few minutes here or there archiving and organizing their most meaningful experiences because of its simplifying, self-worth, and income-generating potential, among other benefits. People are already curating, and they might as well have the mindset and toolkit to maximize it.

“I felt compelled to write the book because Experience Curating has had such a profound impact on my relationships, level of perceived expertise, confidence, and ability to help people in unexpected ways. I wanted other people to experience the fun and rewards of strategically curating their existence…and a book is still the best vehicle to spread your big idea.”

Sounds like a man on a mission, doesn’t he?

And now, over to Joel!

I asked Joel to answer a series of questions about his experience of the work we did together. Here’s what he had to say.

Why did you decide to take the plunge and work with me, specifically, on Experience Curating?

Well, you had already edited my investment course product, Start Investing with $100. So I knew firsthand how amazing you were at taking my seriously crappy words, structure, or concepts and making them shine brighter than a flood light. I only considered working with one other editor, but I was desperately hoping that you and I could come to an agreement on price, timeline, and some unconventional methods of collaborating (e.g. doing it in Word vs. a Google Doc). Fortunately, we did! And what a relief. I don’t want anyone touching my most important words except you. :)

What were the goals you had for Experience Curating when you came to me?

I didn’t write the book to make money. It was a strategic investment in gaining popularity and clout to get future paid speaking gigs, have people propose joint ventures with me (since being a published author apparently makes you so much more awesome-o), and a few other intangible benefits. In other words, this book on Experience Curating was really my first strategic and long-term product around the main themes of how I want to help people.

What wasn’t working when you came to me, and what were you hoping to get out of our work together? How did Experience Curating develop as our work progressed?

The list of what wasn’t working for me when I came to you with 36,000 poorly written and horribly structured words was a lot longer than what was working. I actually sent you a four-page Word document of what wasn’t working, broken up by general items (bad storytelling), structural issues (do I need sections?), and the writing itself (are my sentences too long?). I was hoping to get a serviceable book out of our work together, because I couldn’t imagine how my extremely rough draft could ever become something better than just that: serviceable.

Unsurprisingly (at least from my current perspective), those four months of pain, frustration, and incoherent late-night writing oozing with all my writing hang-ups or weaknesses actually turned into a book. Your recommendations about how to break the book up into three sections and put specific content in specific chapters convinced me that — with enough dedication and helpful friends — my book would actually be worth reading (and maybe even valuable for some people).

How would you describe what the back-and-forth between us was like for someone who’s never experienced it?

Like playing ping-pong with super oversized paddles. It felt like I had an unfair advantage over other writers every time I hit the ball (a.k.a. sent some text) back to you.

What was the hardest part of the editing process for you? How was the issue eventually resolved?

The hardest part was knowing where to stop. For example, I sweated a ton over the perfect word choice for a key section knowing full well it didn’t really matter what synonym I used for a given word. I also knew that I could do ten rounds of developmental editing with you and I still might not feel good about some parts of the book. That hurt, and I didn’t ever resolve that inner tension.

Experience Curating by Joel Zaslofsky (cover)

What part of the editing process was the most fun?

The jokes we passed back and forth in the margins. I felt like I was sitting next to a friend in second grade, quietly cracking silly jokes that nobody else would understand.

What feedback did you receive that surprised you?

That my first draft was actually coherent enough to turn into a legit book. I really thought there was a chance you would send it back to me saying, “Dude, this is unworkable.”

What did you come to understand about a developmental editor’s work that you didn’t know before?

That developmental editors are the key teammate in the book-writing process. Skimp on your book cover or your writing tools, but never split hairs with the book-writing partner that can easily make or break your book.

What did you learn through our work together that you’ll take forward into future projects?

There were so many subtleties of grammar, word choice, and structure that I’m now permanently better at because you took the time to point them out. You didn’t just say, “Nope. You didn’t do that right.” Instead, you told me, “You could improve here, and this is how I suggest doing it differently.”  

For example, you pointed out my over-reliance on “—” to emphasize a point and italicized text. I still use these devices, but I’m now picky about when because you helped me become self-aware of a crutch I was using (poorly).

Do you feel like you achieved your big vision with the end result? What effect are you hoping Experience Curating will have on readers and/or the world at large?

Oh, absolutely! I want it to get people to be more intentional about what they do as a result of their most meaningful experiences. To create a more systems- or process-oriented reader. And to get people to use Excel spreadsheets (a lot) more.

What advice would you pass along to other small business owners that you wish you’d known before you signed up to work with a developmental editor?

You need a developmental editor for any long-lasting, important piece of writing. Don’t question a highly-regarded developmental editor’s value. They are worth it every time (and probably worth 2-5x more than you think).

Want to check out the end result?

Experience Curating lives right here. You can also visit Joel at Value of Simple, his online home.

Photos courtesy of Joel Zaslofsky.


Intro to Editors is a series that explores what editors do in the context of solo and small business owners. Read the rest of the series here.

We know what an editor does. We know where editors fit within the writing process. Now we’re ready to zoom in close enough on editors themselves that we can start to see and understand the differences between them.

We’ll move from big picture to nitty-gritty details and early in the writing process to the end.

First up: developmental editors (like yours truly).

As we go, keep in mind that while there are plenty of similarities, the specifics of how each editor defines his or her work will vary. The likelihood of finding two editors — even of the same type — who go about the job in exactly the same way? Not good. But here’s how I approach my work.

If you were renovating your kitchen, what’s the first thing you’d do?

Blueprints (Intro to Editors: Meet the Developmental Editor by Erin Kurup, photo by Will Scullin via Flickr)Paint the walls that perfect shade of grey you spent days tracking down?

Change out all the drawer pulls on the old cabinets?

Set up the gorgeous new hardwood table you bought?

I hope not!

You’d start by getting the bones of the room to line up with your vision. That might mean tearing down old walls and building new ones in different places. Replacing or reconfiguring the cabinets. Bumping out a bit here, pulling in over there. Reshaping. Revamping. You know, getting the interior ready to support the space you want to create. Otherwise, all the painting and furnishing and replacing of hardware would just be wasted effort.

Developmental editing is like those initial stages of renovation.

It’s more concerned with the big picture (like where the walls should be) than with grammar and punctuation (what color you ultimately paint those walls). It’s about getting the big pieces in place and lined up with your project goals before you start polishing what you’ve created. Because just like with a renovation project, there’s no point perfecting the details until you’ve made sure the foundation is laid and the work is structurally sound.

Where in the process does developmental editing happen?

Developmental editing (also called “content” or “substantive” editing) happens before a draft makes its way to a line editor, copyeditor, or proofreader. It’s the earliest point in the writing process that an editor can step in. Any earlier and you’re either drafting alone or working with a writing coach.

Where developmental editors fit on the writing spectrum (

What kind of text does a developmental editor work on?

These earliest editors work on the roughest draft you feel comfortable getting help with. And trust me: They’ve seen some pretty rough drafts. You may even be able to hand your editor a digital stack of disparate pieces — blog posts, notes, transcripts, draft snippets — and get help creating a cohesive outline or even stitching them into a single unit. That’s where a developmental editor’s organizational skills and thread-finding abilities shine.

Don’t worry about getting the draft you hand over to be perfect and typo-free. Remember that kitchen renovation: Get the walls in place before you worry about drawer pulls. So many things can shift when you do the deep, structural work we developmental editors excel at that it’s not worth finessing the details yet. In fact, the less attached you are to the little stuff, the easier and more effective your developmental editing efforts will likely be.

I know it can be scary to let someone in on such a tender, messy draft. If you’re concerned about an editor coldly crushing your best efforts, don’t be. Honestly, if we were all cruel and overly critical, no one would ever work with us! You can usually tell from interacting with someone what his or her style of communication is. Follow the person online or get in touch before you commit to working together. If you feel comfortable talking with a developmental editor, chances are that comfort will carry over into your collaboration.

What, specifically, does a developmental editor do?

A developmental editor will usually work with you through a series of rounds. He or she will add feedback to your draft, then hand it back so you can incorporate what makes sense to you and ask for clarification about what doesn’t. The suggestions you get will focus primarily on the big-picture stuff; think structure, organizing, frameworks, alignment, and completeness.

Here are some questions a developmental editor can help you address as you work together to align your actual digital product, blog post, or web copy with the version in your head:

Laptop, index cards, and coffee, ready to edit (Intro to Editors: Meet the Developmental Editor by Erin Kurup, photo by Tammy Strobel via Flickr)

  • What’s the best way to organize my thoughts around this topic? How can I pull all these pieces together into an outline or draft that makes sense?
  • What’s the argument that threads through this whole project? Does everything I’ve included support that point?
  • What structural changes would make my project clearer or easier to follow?
  • Are the section and/or chapter breaks in the right place? Are the ideas, sections, and/or chapters in the most logical order?
  • Do the ideas, sections, and/or chapters move easily into one another? How can I make the transitions between them smoother?
  • Which passages need to be reworked so that they flow better, and how can I accomplish that?
  • Where do I need deeper explanations, better examples, or more information? Which parts aren’t necessary and can be trimmed?
  • Where am I inconsistent? Where do I contradict or repeat myself? Where do I not explain myself clearly?

And perhaps most importantly:

  • How do I make sure what I’m creating stays in line with what my eventual readers want and need?

If any of those questions have ever wandered through your head as you’re writing — or if they’re wandering there now — you’d probably find a developmental editor’s skill set to be particularly helpful. But don’t worry about asking all the questions yourself. Your editor will be able to see which areas your specific project might need some help with and focus your combined efforts there.

Who needs developmental editing?

I firmly believe anyone who writes things that other people read will benefit from working with a good developmental editor, and my clients will back me up.

That being said, the people who will benefit the most are:

  1. those who want to write but don’t necessarily feel comfortable calling themselves authors, and
  2. those who tend to write shorter pieces, like blog posts and newsletters, but want to try their hand at something longer.

There’s a reason I call myself an “idea architect”: Working with a developmental editor will ensure your project is well organized, clearly presented, and aligned with your work and audience. It’ll give you confidence that the foundation you’re building on — whether you’re writing a 1,000-word guest post or a 40,000-word ebook — supports the vessel you’re creating to carry your message out the world.

Does that sound like you? If so, look up your friendly neighborhood editor and see what he or she can do for you.

Photos adapted from the CC-licensed work of Will Scullin and Tammy Strobel.


Sunny bedroomAs I write these words, I am propped up in bed, laptop resting on my thighs, cat lounging on the sleep-rumpled covers beside me. I’ve yet to check my email or open a social media app. Instead, I am typing these first few lines on a blank Scrivener screen.

My normally bustling neighborhood is quiet, the absence of noise like a cozy blanket insulating me from the outside world. My mind, so recently reclining in sleep, is still soft and open and willing to flow.

In these predawn hours, I can almost believe there is no audience, no public space these words may eventually call home. I can almost believe the only reason I’m putting my thoughts down in writing is for my own edification and clarity of thought.

It’s just me and my words. And the cat, of course.

Later, I will edit. I will comb through these words with a critical eye. I will cut, elaborate, rearrange, and tweak. I will shape these half-filtered musings into something logical and whole.

But for now, I’m alone with the page. No editor, no formatting, no audience.

And therein lies the key: I can write like nobody’s reading.

“Voice” is one of those perpetually hot topics.

How do you sound like yourself as you send your ideas out into the world, whether in blog post or ebook or email or some other package? How do you find the most authentic form of your thoughts to share? And how do you stay at least a smidge consistent?

“Write to one person,” some say.

“Collect words and phrases you like to use in your own work,” suggest others.

And still others urge you to “write, write, and write some more.” Practice, in other words, makes perfect.

All good advice, for sure. But I’d like to add another suggestion to the pot, to melt in among the others: Write like nobody’s reading.

The problem with writing for someone — even your beloved right person — is that every layer of external scrutiny you add introduces another filter and piles on an additional helping of pressure.

Trust me: filters and pressure and authentic writing mix like oil and water — which is to say very poorly indeed. (That’s one of the things I address in Out of Your Head and Onto the Page. It’s that important.)

I’m sure you’ve felt it.

Say you sit down to write an email to your list.

Laptop and mouse on a sunny tableYou start off writing to one person, like the experts suggest. How would this one person like to hear what you have to say? There’s one filter.

But in the back of your mind, you know it’s not just this one person. It’s your whole list, and possibly people who’ve never even heard of you until a friend forwards your email (because it’s that good…uh-oh, now you have to make it that good!). Hey there, two additional filters.

You really want to come at the topic from this particular angle, and if at all possible, you should gently remind people that you’re now offering one-on-one coaching. Come on in, filters four and five.

Now you’re writing for your right person, plus the rest of your list, plus people who’ve never encountered your brand. You’re also trying to capture a specific angle AND work in a soft sales pitch.

See what happened? Five filters. Five perspectives to juggle as you translate your thoughts into words.

Oh, but hang on — you’re also determined to make sure this email sounds like you. So make that six perspectives.

By the time your words make it through all six of the filters you’re using, what are the chances they’ll still sound like you — even with that sixth filter in place? Hint: not good. Every perspective you try to incorporate introduces another opportunity for distortion, for straying off the path of “sounds like you” and into the realm of inauthenticity.

I’d like to propose a better way.

For your very first draft, as you do the delicate work of translating thoughts into words, write like nobody’s reading. Know your topic, maybe the general direction you want to go in, then let go of the rest. Let it be you and the page. Untether your mind from all the constraints, remove the filters, and let the words come naturally. This is your rough draft. Possibly the first of many. It’s not the end — only the very first step of the creation process.

A mess of sticky notesBut what if it’s messy? That’s ok. That’s good. In mess, there’s likely to be truth. Crap? Yes. But also deep, unvarnished, diamond-in-the-rough truth. Also? More of real, authentic you than your writing has seen in a long time.

Once you have that initial capture done, you can edit to your heart’s content. Tweak the wording a bit to appeal more to your right person. Spin the story a hair to better illustrate your point. Add a little here and trim a bit there so that you capture the particular angle you’re after. Work in a call to action about your new coaching services. Refine until it fits what you’re envisioning.

The key is that in that roughest of rough drafts are the elements of your own voice: the way you tell stories, the words that come quickest when you reach, the rhythm of your prose. You have all of these things, if you can find a way to set the filters and the “supposed-to”s and the pressure of other people’s perspectives aside long enough to let them shine through.

I’m not saying you must get a cat, awaken before dawn, and write before your feet hit the floor. But I am suggesting you find your own equivalent, that time when you can set aside the expectations of the world (and even your own) and just write.

Write like nobody’s reading, and your most natural voice will find its way out into the world.

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Photos adapted from the CC-licensed work of markus spiske and Nina Matthews Photography.