The Dirt on Freelance Editing

Editing is much easier than writing. Well, it is…if the writing itself is any good. Imagine sitting down to read a manuscript with fully-conceived, flowing ideas and cohesive text. You might find a few spelling and/or grammatical errors. You might see ways to tighten the syntax or strengthen the structural sequence of an argument for maximum impact. These things will leave you, the editor, feeling pretty good overall. Dare I say, perhaps even inspired?

Situations like that will leave you feeling more like a proofreader than an editor. Sometimes, however, quite frequently, in fact, you engage with a manuscript that makes you question your capacity to read, if not your sanity. These manuscripts call upon all your creative resources. After all, not only must you address the superficial issues of spelling and grammar, you must dive deep into the text and catch that wriggling, squirming, premature notion that the author could not develop into a fully-conceived idea, viewpoint, or argument. And if you’ve authored something like this, that’s okay. Don’t be alarmed. I’ve been there myself; it still sometimes happens. No judgment here! Just because a manuscript is a malformed mess doesn’t mean it has no value, that there isn’t a core substance within waiting to be nurtured, developed. You must do this without forgetting that you are the editor, not the author. When you resurface with the author’s notion and set to the task of developing its fullest possible expression, remember that this must happen within the context of the author’s text. Minimally reworked.

As the editor, you must patiently wait to see what the manuscript reveals in terms of concept, style, and tone. If you leap to work too soon, then you might miss the intention of the author, the gist of the piece, the invention of something new and indefinable that might be essential to a successful edit. After all, how would it do to destroy what’s there only to replace it with your own vision? What use is that to the author or even you? You’ve failed!

A successful edit requires creativity, patience, and respect. Respect for the manuscript. Respect for the author. Sometimes the respect for one will seem mutually exclusive from respect for the other. You might see potential in the manuscript that the author can’t, or vice versa. Sometimes you can respect neither. If you find yourself in situations like this, (if you have any choice in the matter) walk away. You aren’t the best editor for the project. Sometimes you don’t have a choice — like if you’re on a staff, making a salary with health insurance, paid vacation, and sick days. In which case I say: “Oh boo hoo!” Just kidding. Sorta.

As a freelance editor, however, the choice is always yours. And that’s the biggest upside to freelancing. 

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