The perils and pleasures of being an editor


The editor’s eternal puzzle: “OK, what did they mean to say?” Image courtesy of seeka, Morguefile.

As a professional editor, I’m often asked to read someone else’s writing. I’ve edited people’s resumes, books, requests for proposals, news articles, press releases, short stories, newsletters and other written pieces.

Sometimes it’s easy. In some cases, all that’s needed is proofreading. I check over spelling, punctuation, grammar and other basics, marking up the work with a red pen or using MS Word’s editing feature.

But if someone’s work requires substantive editing….well, that’s a judgement call. Substantive editing is when you check the overall parts of what you’re editing: Does it make sense for the target audience? Is the wording going to be confusing or should it be simplified? Is the writing well organized? Have the facts been double-checked for accuracy?

Substantive editing requires diplomacy. Some writers don’t mind the changes when the writing improves due to the editing. Others get feisty, wanting to sneak up behind me and whack me upside the head with a dictionary. (I usually pacify them with chocolate. After they get into the carbohydrate coma, I have a chance to leap out of my chair, spring across the floor and get a head start before they recover enough to chase me. πŸ˜‰ )

Editing has its highly comic moments. It’s easy for someone typing toΒ accidentally switch a couple of digits in a phone number,Β leave out a letter from a word or use the wrong word entirely. The writer ends up saying something he or she never intended.

There are some classic examples of great typos missed by editors. The fourth paperback printing of Twilight has a reference to “dust moats” (That’s a LOT of dust to fill up that moat!) when the phrase is “dust motes”. H.P. Lovecraft’s The Fiction mentions “navel prisoners” (How do they fit in there?), not “naval prisoners”. World War Z by Max Brooks in the first paperback edition talks about giving “last rights” to infected people at a hospital. (Oh, boy.)

But I like knowing that I help someone with my editing. I edited a short story for a school friend, suggesting some proofreading edits and asking him to move one entire section to the beginning of his story, where I thought it would make better sense. He made the changes and it got published, so we were both happy.

Sometimes editing is easy, sometimes it’s a gut instinct of when something feels “off”. But it’s always rewarding, one way or another.


Filed under Editing

39 responses to “The perils and pleasures of being an editor

  1. You made me laugh out loud with this one. Oh, how I love great editors. I’m passing this post along to someone who will also be laughing out loud. Thank you! Thank you!!

  2. I love working with an editor. I have done my absolutely best work when I had an editor to back me up. How much I miss having an editor now! How I wish I had someone to catch the endless typos, the word that doesn’t belong there, but is correctly spelled. The OF where I meant OR or IF. Writers who don’t appreciate editors haven’t worked with a good one.

  3. Those examples had me roaring out loud.

  4. Navel prisoners. I’ve got to remember that one. I love it.

  5. Impybat

    I think my WordPress phone app might have eaten my comment here, too! I think I must be a frustrated editor, because my husband finds me peering over his shoulder (only after he has asked me a grammatical question, of course) when he is composing an email…and then I hang around proofreading it. I also must say that chocolate is a very effective weapon.

  6. I edited a book for a friend and it was really hard to do. She was hoping to publish and it wasn’t anywhere near ready. In fact, many parts didn’t make sense. I decided then that I would only edit for strangers for a lot of money!

  7. This was quite enjoyable! I am certainly not in any way a professional editor, but I frequently edit for my friends. I have lost count of the times I tell them that something simply feels off to me. As I take more writing classes, I’m learning to identify the problems in clear terminology, but I still trust my gut a lot!

  8. geanieroake

    Oh my, I wish I had an editor friend. Not hinting, just wishing. My initial proofreader is my hubby, and he finds some embarrassing stuff. Thank goodness he’s willing to read my historical romance manuscripts.

  9. Editing is definitely an interesting part of my job. Especially when you work with technical procedures written by engineers. πŸ™‚

  10. Editing is a hard job, yet somebody’s got to do it. *grins*
    “He told her to keep straight on, then turn to the rite.” πŸ˜‰

  11. I love this πŸ™‚ I had an example of someone wanting to write condescension and instead wrote condensation lol πŸ™‚ I hope you don’t mind my reblogging this. It’s good for us writers to know a good editor when we see one πŸ™‚

  12. Reblogged this on The Bard's Tale – A K Hinchey's Writing Blog and commented:
    Read this brilliant article πŸ™‚ I have to admit I’ve never laughed out loud as much. This is an example of a great editor with a keen eye and a good view of what we should look out for as a writer for when we need help πŸ™‚

  13. Smiles. Perhaps that is why I haven’t published anything in years. I like my writing and I don’t like anyone editing my content. Spelling, grammar, that’s totally different, but when editors take content or want to change content, as some do, if my story or article is changed, it simply isn’t mine anymore.

    • You raise a good point. That’s why I pointed out that diplomacy is needed. I feel that a good editor will want to keep to your original text as closely as possible, or suggest changes that will benefit what you’ve written. Maybe it comes down to that person and their motives.

      • True. Motives are important. Sometimes when it comes to telling a story, a line or two or even a whole paragraph can mean nothing to an editor but might mean the whole world to the author.

        I remember when I entered a photography contest once, a picture of a little baby with both hands in front of his eyes. And the “judge” of the contest make a remark that the picture would have been so much better had the hands not been in front of the eyes. Good call, or not?

        The whole point of the picture was that the infant was shielding his eyes from the glare of the incubator (which was not in the picture). Smiles. And it is examples like this, bits of a story, that might seem invisible to the average person, that are such very important bits of a very important story. Apologies for this long note. Smiles. Yes, diplomacy is needed and helpful to understanding, sometimes, the whole story. Ahh, we think alike, on some things. Thank you “Eagle-Eyed Editor”.

      • And smiles right back at you! Thanks for coming by and leaving your thoughts.

  14. Before I retired, I did much editing. Tough job at times. I learned in one grad class that to write well, sometimes you have to murder your children. Children in this case being your words, phrases, etc. Dianne

  15. ZZMike

    Back to a larger question: I almost always read in the Foreword or Preface to a “best seller:, in the “Thanks to…” section, “Thanks to my editor”.

    Why do major writers need editors? Doesn’t deathless prose drip freely from their pens?


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