the one thing I never think about when I’m editing

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Maybe you didn’t know it (and maybe it doesn’t show), but in addition to being a writer, I’m an editor. Part of my job as a Communication Specialist is to edit other people’s work. I think about a lot of things when I’m editing, but I guarantee you there’s one thing I never think about . . .

Let me backtrack a sec. Just so you know, there are a lot of things I do think about when I’m editing a piece of non-fiction. For my job, I pour over articles, letters, brochures, ads, scripts and the like. Here are the kinds of questions I ask myself during the editing process:

Who’s the audience for this piece?
What’s the bottom line—the message—to be conveyed?
Does this truly communicate the message or is it a lot of pretty words strung together?
Is there a simpler way to say it?
Could this be tighter? Is there fluff or useless repetition or verbosity . . . (oops, now I’m doing it!)
Is this the best format for this piece? Would subheads help, for example?
Is there a flow and connection throughout?
Is the tone and language appropriate to the message and the audience?
Is there proper use of grammar and punctuation?

Quite a list, isn’t it? So, what “don’t” I think about? I do not think about the author. Hold on. I should be more specific. Maybe it sounds heartless, but I don’t think about the author’s feelings. Sure, when I’m editing, I do try to keep the author’s intent and style in mind. I don’t want to edit to the point that the piece no longer sounds like the author. But as I’m editing, the last thing I care about is the author’s feelings. It’s not even part of the equation.

Here’s what I care about: answering my list of questions above to the best of my ability so that the end product is a clean, eloquent, effective piece of communication. That’s it. I never once ask myself if it would hurt the author’s feelings if I take out an entire paragraph or reorder the piece or change silly things like utilization to a perfectly fine, simpler word like use. And even though that might sound cold, it’s truly a marvelous thing. Think about it–would you rather have your byline attached to a solid piece of writing or a so-so piece? C’mon. Let me hear you say it. Mm-hmm. I thought so.

Why am I telling on myself? I want you to remember this the next time your work is edited or you’re swirling in a vortex of editor comments. Your editor isn’t heartless. Your editor wants to make your work shine. And sometimes that means hauling out the sandblaster and pick ax. It can be painful at the time. But, baby, it’s for your own good. So, try not to take it personally. It really isn’t about you. It’s about making your work better. And what’s not to like about that?

Just don’t touch “my” work!

Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counselling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, ‘How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?’ and avoid ‘How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece?’ – James Thurber

9 responses »

  1. Nice piece, Vicky. Those are basically the same questions I ask myself as I am editing what I write, which is everything from posts, to devotionals to e-mails to friends.

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  2. Vicky,
    This is such a helpful piece. As a full time editor, I face this issue all day long. I know and love my authors, and the last thing I want to do is discourage anyone. But we all want the same thing–a stellar book. You’ve painted a wonderfully clear picture of the process. I’m sending a link to all my authors! Thank you!

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    • Well, how about that? Here I thought I was sending out encouragement and then you send it right back to me. Thank you so much! I’m pleased to know this was helpful to you and hope it will do the same for your authors (which in turn, will help you!) It’s all circling around, isn’t it. Thank you for following Frog on a Dime. You’re welcome back any time.

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  3. I’m one of Teresa’s authors who received her suggestion to check out this post. As a beginner, I look forward to learning from editor’s corrections/suggestions, enjoying just how much better my piece is after making the changes. I do find the process humbling, but my worst apprehension is more the embarrassment issue than the slash and burn an editor can suggest when necessary. Your post clearly spelled it out for us all. Keep doing what you’re doing–all of us will be the bbetter for it.

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    • Hi Dannie,

      I am so glad you found this to be helpful. Most of all, I want to commend you on your attitude toward the editing process. I’m taking a writing class right now and sometimes when I see my teacher’s notes, I’ll feel humbled–why didn’t I recognize that (whatever it is) before? But isn’t it great to have the benefit of another person’s insights and eyes? It’s clear you appreciate what a gift an objective opinion can be, and that will take you far. Thank you for visiting Frog on a Dime. Please stop by again any time. My best to you!

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