Tales from the Desk of an Editor

Tales from the Desk of an Editor

I have a little treat for you. One of the women I call my best friend and editor (you should remember her form here) Megan is back with some great questions about editing. I needed to pick someones brain and everyone else I know is a true writer to their core (even with all the flakiness and general la la about life). So here are some great questions that I felt you guys needed answered. I hope you enjoy it! And thank you to Megan for answering these.

What is involved with editing?

To me, it’s all about ensuring the meaning of the text is presented in a way that’s best understood by the reader. There’s a lot involved, from cutting out unnecessary words and rearranging content to ensure clarity and conciseness, to polishing and refining the content. This often, but not always, involves working alongside the writer to ensure the essence of the text is maintained.

How is editing different from writing or even reading? 

That depends on whether you can turn your internal editor off. Hopefully you can, because you’ll go crazy if you’re always in editing mode! When I write, my only aim is to get out words that convey the meaning of what I want to say. This draft always in incoherent and terrible, and then I fix them up to make them sound good. For me, writing is a process of just getting what I want to say on the page. Editing, on the other hand, is making sure the message is clear and can be easily understood by others.

When I read for pleasure (i.e. not at work), I just try to get lost in the story, rather than judging what it says and if it could have ben said in a better/more concise way. It’s already been published, and it’s not my job to fix it. When I’m editing, I’m usually reading too, but the whole time I’m considering if it needs to be improved, and if any of it can be said in a more concise way.

How you edit?

In my job I edit educational resources, so it is different to when I used to edit website and magazine content. I often do a quick scan over the text to familiarise myself, and then do a full read-through in which I make as many changes as necessary. I check figures and tables, overall structure and that the chapters are in a logical order and make sure they’re relevant to the text, and that they’re labelled consecutively. It’s hard to edit for meaning first time around since I often don’t know what the book is really about when I start reading. In the second-round edit, I look for inconsistencies within the text.

I don’t know if that really answers the how of editing. Some of what makes a good editor is an innate attention to detail and the rest is learnt. I guess when I’m reading I’m always trying to adhere to the rules of grammar, punctuation and style, while considering if everything makes sense to the target market. There are a lot of writers that will just submit work that makes sense in their head, without considering it from the perspective of the reader.

 Do you use copyediting symbols? 

Yep, but not in the rigid way I learnt them at uni. At work I’ll read manuscripts either on hard copy or in InDesign, and sometimes I switch back and forth depending on what’s easiest at the time. We make changes to the text straight onto the file and mark up things regarding layout for the designer, such as moving images around, fixing headers and footers and then bigger things like moving slabs of content around to other pages. It’s hard to use proper copyediting symbols for things like this, so its mostly arrows and circles around slabs of text with instruction.

We are pretty lax with our markups though, and all of the editors learnt slight variations in the symbols. As long as the designers can understand what needs to be done it’s fine. We’re lucky enough to have designers in the next room to we can just tell them what needs to be done if things get super complicated.

What does editing mean to you?

I get to make things better! I get a real kick out of organising and fixing things, cutting the crap and making things and clean and consistent, so this job suits my personality. At work it means making the text error-free and relevant to an Australian reader, as many of the books I edit were first published in the US. When I’m editing other things it means making the writer’s message as clear and concise as possible.

What should people look for in a reliable editor?

If you’re paying someone to edit your own work, you’d want someone who gets you and your writing, otherwise you’ll be constantly clashing. A good editor wants to get the best out of your writing, and doesn’t just change words for the sake of changing them. Most editors are (or have been) writers too, and they know how terrible it can feel to have your own work hacked to pieces.

That aside, a good editor should be willing to discuss changes they’ve made, and open to negotiating what changes stay and what goes. They’ll be reliable communicators and will answer all your questions, not just the ones that serve them. If they’re in the position to offer feedback, they’ll give you a few pointers on things they have repeatedly changed in your writing. In the past I’ve written for low-paying publications, but it was rewarding when editors were able to give me feedback.

What do you need to sit down and edit? Some writers have routines and rituals, what are yours? 

My routines and rituals apply more to writing than editing. This is why I wanted to edit for a job and write on the side – I have to sit down every day and edit no matter what, and sometimes there’s no time for rituals! When I’m writing, I need to come up with words myself, and rituals help me do that. For that reason I knew I wouldn’t be great as a full-time writer. I find editing less daunting because there are already words to work with, and they’re not mine so there’s generally no emotional attachment. When editing, ideally I’d like to be comfortable, have a clear head and minimal noise. Even if that’s not the case, I have to get stuck into it!

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