Editing is hard work.
I read complaints about editors on forums and on blogs all the time. While I realize that sometimes a particular editor may be unfair, there are other times when I just have to wonder what the writer was thinking.
The way I look at it, if someone is paying you to write, then they have the right to ask that your work be edited.
Now I realize that many writers have never had an editing assignment. They don’t really know what it’s like to edit someone else’s work. They don’t realize how difficult editing can be.
Personally, however, I have a great deal of appreciation for editors. Overall, I think that most editors do more good than they do harm.
I’ve actually worn both hats. I’ve had many writing assignments and quite a few editing assignments. I can tell you that editing is not easy. In fact, sometimes editing a piece is just as hard a writing it.
Here are eight reasons why editing is a whole lot harder than you think it is:
- It’s difficult to estimate an editing job accurately. Every editing job is as unique as the writer who produced it. With a writing job, you can usually estimate time and cost based on the length and subject matter. With an editing job, what matters is how careful the original writer was. You can’t really know that until you see their work.
- You have to read every single word to edit. Believe it or not, most of us skim through what we read. Even if we think we are reading something carefully, there is a tendency to read quickly and read the piece as a whole. An editor has to change that habit. An editor must look at each individual word that comprises a piece as well as consider the piece as a whole.
- No matter how objective you try to be, there’s always a subjective element. I usually try to edit to a particular style or according to specific standards. Even with a style or standards in place, there is always a subjective element. This means that the editor has to make a tough decision. Usually the decision is something like this: “this is really awkwardly worded, but not technically wrong. Do I fix the piece or let it be?“
- It can take longer to edit a really bad piece than it would take to write a completely new piece. Clients often don’t understand this point, but it is true. If a piece of writing is really bad to start out with, it’s often much more efficient to start over than to try and save the original. Fixing errors takes time. If there are a lot of errors, it takes a lot of time.
- Some people don’t like it when you change their words. Most people don’t like to see the “red ink of correction” on their work. Even though most editing is now done online, having one’s work changed is still about as popular as a trip to the dentist. So, despite the fact that most editors are only trying to help improve the quality of a piece of writing, they are often not well-liked.
- Someone else’s bad writing style can leak over into your own work. If you’ve ever edited a longer piece or spent a lot of time editing, then you may have experienced this phenomenon. You can actually get used to seeing poor sentence construction or grammar errors if they are repeated often. (This is why editors need to take breaks and then return to the editing with a fresh eye.)
- If you spend too much time editing, you will naturally start to see errors in everything around you. It takes a certain mindset to edit. As I mentioned before, you need to look at every single word. You become used to looking for mistakes. Often, this carries over to your personal life. You start to notice mistakes in magazines, newspapers, or even on restaurant menus.
- People hold you to a higher standard in your own work. Readers can usually forgive a typo — unless they realize that you also work as an editor. Once that is discovered, all of the sudden the writer becomes fair game for criticism. “Who does he or she think they are? They edit other people’s work and look, here is a mistake in their own writing.“
Editing is hard work. While it’s often viewed as a sort of afterthought to writing, good editing actually requires a lot of time and takes a lot of discipline. Not every writer can become an editor.
What if you can’t afford an editor? While nothing can truly replace the value of having a second set of eyes looking at your work, there are some proofreading tricks that you can use that will help to improve your work.
What do you think of editors? Have you ever been an editor?
Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.