Eva van Emden, Freelance Editor

Certified Copy Editor and Proofreader

eva@vancouvereditor.com

June 4, 2021

Perfectionism and editing: getting unstuck

I recently attended an Editors Canada webinar “Taming the Inner Perfectionist” by Suzy Bills. Perfectionism is common among editors, and it has its good side: motivation to do great work, and its bad side: fear of failure. Bills outlined a wise strategy for setting realistic expectations and at the same time supporting yourself so that you can do the best work possible. In particular, the discussion of how perfectionism can lead to procrastination made me think about what makes me procrastinate on a project.

For me, editing insecurity sometimes strikes at the start and finish of the project, and it can lead to inefficiency. At the start of the project sometimes I find it difficult to prioritize all of the tasks, or I feel as if I have to decide every possible style issue before starting to edit the first page. At the end of the project, I’m tempted to re-check my work or I worry that I’ve forgotten to do something.

Getting started

My two main strategies for getting going on a new project when I’m feeling some uncertainty are building momentum and reducing the pressure. This is how I build momentum:
  • Starting with housekeeping tasks such as adding the client and project to my spreadsheet and time tracking software. These routine tasks are soothing, make me feel I’m making progress, and build confidence by reminding me of my past successes.
  • Starting a project notes document with any special instructions from the client. This is a way to break the project down into tasks and gives me confidence that I won’t forget a crucial requirement.
  • Doing easy tasks in the manuscript: removing extra spaces and paragraph breaks, setting the correct styles and formatting on the body text and headings. Again, these are easy tasks that make progress. Not only does it make sense to do them first, but they also give me a sense of familiarity with the manuscript.
To reduce the pressure, I often do the following:
  • Tell myself that I’ll return to the first chapter to check my work and make sure it is consistent with the editing in the rest of the manuscript.
  • Write down tasks to do later and questions that arise on a to-do list in the project notes file so that I don’t get bogged down making too many decisions or worry about forgetting to do something later. Many decisions are easier to make once I’ve seen more of the manuscript, and if the question is written down, I can move on.
  • If I feel I’m working very slowly on a particular task or section of the manuscript, I turn off my work timer to remove the pressure to work “fast enough.” Once I finish the task, I can judge how much time I think it should have taken and log that.

Delivering the work

At the end of the project, it can be hard to let go. At this point, being systematic about making sure I’ve met all of the job requirements builds my confidence that I’m delivering good work. I use notes and to-do lists to keep things from falling through the cracks.
  • I check my project notes file or the client’s original email for special instructions about delivery (and invoicing).
  • Most importantly, I go through my to-do list in the project notes file to make sure all tasks are completed. At a minimum, my to-do list generally has reminders to check the table of contents, reread all of the comments in the file, and spell check. Ticking off the items gives me confidence that the work is finished.
  • Other checklists: the client may have a house checklist, especially for proofreading. I also have a standard checklist for proofreading that I go through.

February 10, 2021

From Contact to Contract: How Editors Get Clients to Work with Them

From Contact to Contract: How Editors Get Clients to Work with Them, edited by Karin Cather, is the first in Editors Canada’s new series on the business of editing. In this short book, nine highly experienced editors offer their advice and perspectives on how to find clients and build agreements with them. The topics covered include the following:
  • Cold calling
  • Networking
  • Applying for jobs effectively
  • Building a relationship with a prospective client, including ways to build trust
  • When and how to do a sample edit
  • Deciding whether to accept a client or refer them to a colleague
  • Estimating a project

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Evaluating the client
  3. How to respond to potential clients: Three case studies
  4. How to impress a client from the first email
  5. Considering the client’s needs
  6. Choosing clients based on mutual interests
  7. Sample edits: Are they necessary and should you charge for them?
  8. From another author’s perspective
  9. Closing the sale: A semi-cautionary tale
  10. Not closing the sale
  11. Conclusion
The book isn’t a textbook of how-to instructions for these skills, but instead focuses on strategies for making the best use of your time and showing yourself to your best advantage. I would recommend it for intermediate to advanced editors who are looking for ideas about how to sharpen up their business practices. I found a number of ideas for things I could do better.

Available as a paperback or ebook.

January 12, 2021

The Art and Science of Editing

“The Art and Science of Editing” is one of the courses in the Poynter ACES Certificate in Editing, an excellent and affordable introduction to editing. Here are some notes from when I took the course a few years ago.

Who are you editing for?

Know your readers, boss, self, publication, and writer.

What is editing?

Making things better.
  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the goal?
  • What is the reader hearing? Can the reader hear what the writer is saying? If background information is missing, or the writer is using language that the reader can’t understand easily, the message won’t get through.

Hippocratic oath of editing

  1. Don’t go looking for errors, because when you’re looking for errors, you’re not experiencing the writing in the way a reader does. Most readers are looking for information, not for errors to pounce on. Instead, pay attention to what happens when you read. Alertness and healthy skepticism are good, but suspicion is the wrong attitude.
  2. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  3. A good doctor leaves few visible scars. Try to be invisible.

Changing versus editing

A change is something you want to do. An edit allows the copy to meet the needs of the reader. An edit focuses on the reader, but a change is done for convenience, or to conform with a rule. A habit of making changes is what can give editors a bad reputation sometimes.

Ask yourself:

  1. What is it that bothers me? What’s the fix that does the minimum damage?
  2. Does the rule I’m applying actually fit here? For example, a reporter whose style guide mandated using “to dismiss” instead of “to fire” changed a reference to “Last hired, first fired” policy to “Last hired, first dismissed,” applying a rule inappropriately.

Did you make it better?

  • You don’t have to make changes to justify your existence.
  • Compare the text before and after. This is one of the reasons you should use track changes.
  • Look at it fresh. Make another pass, and consider changing the font, letter size, or format you help you see the text afresh.
  • Look at the effect of the change. Did it introduce an error?
  • Don’t congratulate yourself—you’ll miss the next problem.

Keeping a good relationship with the writer

  • Don’t be aggressive or defensive.
  • Start with a compliment.
  • Don’t let it get personal: talk in terms of the copy and the reader. Avoid saying “you wrote” because another editor may have introduced that wording. Avoid saying “I fixed” because that means it was broken. Say, “The story says this.”
  • Always have a suggestion ready. “Could we make it say X?”
  • Use language that the writer understands. Avoid technical grammatical terms.

Negotiating changes with the writer

  • It’s OK to make some concessions for the sake of preserving your relationship with the author, as long as it doesn’t hurt the reader.
  • Start with the easy stuff, like clear-cut errors like typos and spelling mistakes.
  • Once you’ve built some confidence, move on to less obvious errors. Be prepared to let some of these go. Maybe you’re wrong about them.
  • Save the most difficult issues for last.
  • In a tie, the writer always wins. The writer is the one whose name and reputation are on the line. Never be the editor who makes changes behind the writer’s back.

Empathy

Try to put yourself in the writer’s place: understand what they’re trying to do, and when you make edits, do them the way the writer would.

Editor’s role

Aim to be respected, not liked or feared. The editor is the writer’s safety net or spotter. The editor stands up for the reader.