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. ;-) )
Editing has its highly comic moments. It’s easy for someone typing to accidentally switch a couple of digits in a phone number, 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.