5 Things I Learned from Editing

I haven’t been an editor for very long, but these are a few of the things I have begun to notice about the nature of the job…

1. It is extremely difficult to edit your own work well.

That’s why you will always be told to put your drafts away for a long time and not look at them until you feel as though you can no longer remember writing it. Sometimes it’s difficult to do that when you’re on a tight deadline, but putting it away and not looking at it for a night or a week is better than constantly being attached to it. If you are a writer, yes, by all means, edit your own work… but get some distance from it and always have another editor ready to catch what you will miss.

2. Some authors don’t like editors.

Authors can be averse to having the words that they’ve slaved over for so long completely torn apart with a red pen — and you really can’t blame them. These are the authors you’ll have to work with and negotiate with on matters of style — and they are a challenge. Conversely, you’ll meet some authors who are full of gratitude and who are willing to accept and listen to your suggestions.

3. There is no computer or software substitute for a human editor.

(And hopefully, there never will be because lots of people would be out of work.) But seriously, don’t stop at Microsoft Word’s grammar checker or any number of other programs that purport to do the work of an editor. You need a human editor’s critical eye if you want your writing to be the best it can be.

4. Editing goes far, far beyond grammar and checking for typos.

Some people have the mistaken notion that editing is just reading and therefore, it’s something fun. Wrong. Well, editing is fun. But it’s also time-consuming and takes a lot of energy. As an editor, you’re checking for consistency, you’re working with authors, you’re sticking to deadlines, you’re worrying about formatting, and you’re noticing many, many more things than a casual reader of the text would see.

5. Sometimes the things you edit will be boring. Very boring.

If you edit for a living, and especially if you do freelance editing, sometimes your assignments won’t always be the most exciting subject matter. One of my assignments was to edit a book about health insurance. You can imagine how exciting that would be. You have to look on the bright side and think about what you might learn from that experience. Editing a wide variety of things is having a wide variety of “feathers in your cap.”

Happy Friday! 🙂

13 thoughts on “5 Things I Learned from Editing

  1. This is an excellent post. I always dreamed of being a proof reader; I could sit all day and read and make money. But, with my luck, I would be assigned to a dry and uninteresting book and my dream bubble would burst.

    Thanks for sharing and keep us updated on this new position!


  2. I don’t think there will be a computer that can edit (really edit — not copy-edit) until there’s a computer that can write fiction. And I’m not saying if/when that will happen, but I think the two are equally difficult.


  3. Maggie,
    #3 and #4 are very important. People think because they are good proofreaders or can use software, it makes them good editors! There is SO much more to it than that. I wish the employers out there would recognize the value a good editor brings to the table…but I think it will be a thankless job forevermore!


  4. I’m especially in tune with item 2. For a long time I’ve hated the idea that someone without my understanding of my story or characters could just jump in and have at me with a red pen.

    That said, I finally grew up about a year ago (and I’m an oldie!) I have discovered a new love for the red pen because I’ve found an editor / teacher / mentor who not only understands writing at a very high level, but who seriously cares about the quality of my output. What a relief! What an amazing realization!

    Best of luck as you continue down that arduous path.


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