Surviving Professional Writing & Editing
Get used to revising, my darlings.
If you’re preparing to launch into a career as a writer, start embracing the editing process. Because you’re going to be doing it a lot once you have a position as a writer or editor.
From various day jobs and freelance gigs, I feel that these are rather universal experiences. Hopefully sharing them can help others work through these situations and diffuse the frustrations that arise.
Many of us have strained relationships with the editing process. When I first started out and did strictly creative writing, I absolutely hated editing my own work. I’d have to leave it be for months before I could go back and properly edit my words without them jumbling up with my original intentions for the sentences in my head.
However, needing long breaks from my work before I could competently proofread and edit it does not bode well for the professional setting. As a writer, you’re going to have some projects that allow this kind of workflow, and others where your supervisor needed the assignment done before it was even given to you. The “I needed it yesterday” situation pops up often if your workplace has many different projects and priorities whirling around all at once.
It’s frustrating. It’s true.
But you’ve got to get used to it.
This article might sound a bit more weary than motivational, but it comes down to the fact that even after you’ve been working with certain clients for a while, you’re not clairvoyant. Well, probably. If you are psychic, that’s going to make your job a heck of a lot easier. We can do our best to interpret what our clients or supervisors want and ask good questions, but things are constantly changing and revisions are constantly needed.
I started freelance writing and accepting commissions when I was sixteen by miraculously setting up a PayPal account before the legal age of eighteen. I’m still amused that this worked and never gave me any problems. Even though I was doing jobs which were small potatoes, it was great experience. As a freelancer writing for peanuts, I had a lot of unusual customers, and some were quite demanding.
My favorite was a fellow who refused to pay even 50% of the job upfront and emailed me for hourly updates even when I warned him in advance that I could not start writing until I received at least partial payment. I also told him, quite clearly, that I would only send weekly updates. I don’t know if he was legitimately off his rocker or if he was quite cleverly utilizing tactics of trying to make me feel guilty, but he would actually send ex-boyfriendesque messages asking if I was angry at him if I didn’t respond to these emails within an hour. Quite incredible coming from a client who was well informed ahead of time that I worked two other jobs and generally only responded to commissioners in the evening!
While that was an extreme situation, the funny thing is that you may find yourself with supervisors in 9-5 jobs who are just as demanding. I feel like it’s important to recognize people with high expectations and work hard to meet them.
Now, let’s dive into some strategies.
Make that first draft a very rough draft.
Once I’ve identified someone as having very particular preferences, I will try to memorize what they like and curtail the style I’m using to follow what they’re looking for. However, even with doing that, I’ve worked with a number of people who would still have dozens of revisions on each draft, no matter what.
The best way to protect your time and sanity is to keep track of how much time you spend on the first revision. Tell them, very clearly, that it is a rough draft. People with very specific expectations are often understanding that something is not yet entirely polished. It’s not going to make you look sloppy. As long as you word things carefully, they’re going to understand that you’re anticipating making a lot of revisions, which is why it isn’t as polished as the Lombardi trophy just yet.
For example, if something is going to go through five rounds of revisions, there’s no point in doing a hardcore, in-depth editing on each draft. If it’s going to stay internal and no large stakeholders will review your drafts, don’t put an unnecessary amount of time until you’re in the fourth or fifth round of revisions.
Don’t get married to any of your revisions.
There was one particular project I had that sticks out in my mind.
There was some wording on draft number seven that was repeatedly changed in draft eight, nine, ten, eleven, and twelve. Then on the final draft, draft thirteen, the wording was changed again.
Ironically, it was exactly the same as it had been on draft number seven.
This wasn’t the only change happening through all these rounds of revisions, but it’s a prime example of how sometimes, you just need to wait and try to be a good sport about changes that you don’t always agree with.
Choose your battles wisely.
Sometimes, you will have some very well-phrased lines. They’ll be concise. They’ll be great.
Then someone will change them. It might not be as straightforward and it may not have that same snappy word choice you used.
One thing I’ve painfully taught myself to do is only fight if the revision is either grammatically incorrect or if it is really, really bad to the point it’s hard to understand. Being an editor means that you have an inherent drive to make things the best they can possibly be. Yet sometimes, you need to mentally prepare yourself to smile, nod, and accept something that your supervisors or clients prefer, even if it’s not the best choice.
A lot of this advice may come off as sounding depressing, but I want to be clear about one thing. I’m not telling you to have not to have any pride in your work. It’s just that it’s a slippery slope between driving yourself crazy and loving every project that is dropped in your lap.
Sometimes, you’ve got to find the happy medium between your professional opinion and what the client wants.