I saw this post recently on Alan Rinzler’s blog about being afraid of editors. He’s right, I’ve heard several writers express this fear. I can’t say I have it now, but there was a time where I did. When I was new, I would turn in my (then, magazine) articles and then sweat it out while my editors would scratch out words on my typewritten pages. I fully expected that I’d never get hired for another assignment again.
Editors Help Your Writing Fit With the Assignment
But then something magical happened after those first couple of assignments. I realized that editors were good for us. They helped our writing become polished and fit within the needs of the magazine or website we were writing for. It isn’t always about cutting out bad sections of our work. Instead, editors help shape our writing to the size (word count) of the article and voice of the outlet. This is really important and something writers aren’t always good at doing.
Every Writer Needs an Editor
A lot of writers feel they don’t need an editor because they are experienced. But every writer needs them, no matter what level you’re at. You’ve noticed the mistakes here, right? That’s because I don’t have an editor. (Or should I say, you all kindly help edit when you point out my boo-boos.)
Sure, I’m a professional writer. But that doesn’t mean I’ll catch everything. Sometimes my brain works on overdrive and I type fast and those two things together mean I’ll spit out an error or two. Other times, I’ll work for a client who likes to put their “touch” on a piece. Is this their right? Of course.
Your Writing Is a Product
When you’re a freelance writer (and even when you’re a novelist), your writing is not gold. It isn’t meant to be locked away like a precious, irreplaceable gem. Your writing is a product, and it can (and should) be edited to fit with the final goal of the project.
This is a hard thing to swallow when you’re first writing professionally. You sweat over a piece and think about the words you choose, and then your client or an editor comes through with a red pen and slashes away like something out of a horror flick. But it does happen, and in most cases, it should.
What If the Editor Is Wrong?
Are editors ever incorrect in the choices they make with your words? Sure. Of course. They are human. They make choices based on their experience and how they understand the project as a whole (newspaper article, magazine assignment, novel), and sometimes those choices don’t work. Just like sometimes your writing doesn’t work with what you were hired for.
So then what? Is it your place to argue with an editor? Here’s where it gets tricky. You should have a good relationship with your editor, so when a sticky situation comes up you can discuss it rationally. A lot depends on “choosing your arguments.” In the past, when I’ve had an editor change things, I’ve usually let it go.
Different Types of Changes I’ve Experienced
Once I was hired for an article, and the editor left the whole thing as is except for one paragraph, which they changed so drastically it was obvious someone else wrote it. It didn’t match the article or my writing style. It was so obvious that I actually had others ask me (when I used that piece as a clip after that) if I had actually written that paragraph! But still, I never said a word. The writing was an assignment to me and I did my job. The editor did hers. No further discussion was needed.
Another time I had an editor completely change the opening line on every paragraph of my article. She’d ask a question as the starter for the paragraph, and did it all the way through. I didn’t love this technique, but it matched the website I was writing for, so again, I had no beef with it.
Recently I had an editor ask me why I titled a piece a certain way. I did it based on keyword research. I ended up choosing a more popular keyword phrase, but it wasn’t the title we had originally agreed on. We talked about it. The editor chose to leave it, but I encouraged them to do whatever they felt. I was okay with their decision.
When to Fight For Your Words
It’s going to be a rare moment when you really fight for changes. This happens more in novel writing, but even then, sometimes the publisher or editor’s word is final. They need to sell a book that speaks to this emotion, this subject, etc., and the changes are necessary to reach that goal.
I’ve seen freelancers get very defensive about their articles sometimes, and it almost never works out in the end. Either the article gets pulled, or the freelancer loses an opportunity down the road. So if you feel strongly about the changes someone is asking you to make, look at it from their perspective. Then, from that viewpoint, argue your case in a reasonable manner.