Has the Editing Process Crushed Your Soul?

red pen

Okay. I really used Tracked Changes.

In most of the editing I do at YourTango, I try to have an extremely light touch. I feel that I don’t have the right to rip apart a writer’s words, even if I would have said something in a different way.

In other cases (and not too often), I find myself cutting and slashing and rearranging and even sometimes rewriting, and it makes me feel so uneasy. Even if it needs it.

I’ve been working on an essay I assigned for the site. I did a lot of cutting and slashing and rearranging and sometimes even some rewriting. I went back and forth with the writer several times. Look this over, I told her. I want to make sure I haven’t misrepresented you or the research. I want to ensure that I haven’t lost your voice.

She made comments and made suggestions, and admitted that she didn’t have much experience being edited.

I wrote back to her, explained the edits I had made, and said:

In my time as a freelance writer, I’ve had so many different editing experiences. Some editors introduced errors into my copy. Others didn’t edit at all. And others had me do about five trillion rewrites. It’s so interesting being both an editor and a writer. As an editor, I need to make the copy the best it can be, in a way that fits the publication. As a writer, I know what it is to be attached to your words, and I try to run things by my writers when I’ve made extensive edits, as I don’t want to misrepresent them in any way.

In the end, I felt relieved when the writer admitted that I had helped the copy tremendously. I often worry that my experience as a writer holds me back from being a good editor.

Do you have any horror stories in which your story was slashed beyond recognition? Have you ever looked at a published piece of yours and thought: “Wow, how did she do that? That’s a thousand times better!

Related: Walking In Someone Else’s Shoes, Are Writing and Editing Mutually Exclusive?


  1. As an editor, I’m always uneasy. First, I understand that my own writing is a work in process. I need others to edit me sometimes, too. Also, there’s a fine line between improving the work and changing it into your own. Lately, I’ve been editing a book and I’ve also taken on some smaller editing jobs too. I think I’m getting more comfortable with the process. Still it’s hard for me to tell someone that something they worked so hard on and think is so brilliant really isn’t because I’ve been on the other side of that myself.

  2. I’ve had both experiences. On the one hand, there were a few wonderfully talented editors who really made my writing sing by rearranging the order of a few paragraphs or adding a transitional phrase here or there. Then there were editors who added so many cheesy asides that I felt the end product read like it was written by a drunk valley girl! In one case (I know this wasn’t malicious, just an honest mistake), the editors separated my feature article and the accompanying sidebar into separate sections of the magazine so that we had no idea who these people were in the sidebar (I’d given their full names and titles in the article but the sidebar just used last names). That was rather embarrassing! In general, though, I try to be open to the editing process and trust the editor to their job. Then I’ll compare the finished product to the manuscript I turned in to see what I can learn from the changes.

  3. I think being an editor is a difficult position because, as a writer, when an editor completely re-vamps my words and doesn’t ask me about if it is still me, but puts my name on it when published – no bueno. I have had a few articles where I didn’t hear anything back from the editor. One day I see my article out there and it doesn’t look, sound or feel like anything I would have written. My wife even commented – “Did YOU write this?”

    I think that what you are doing, by running it back by your writers is the best of both worlds because you want to maximize the impact for the publication, but you don’t want to strip the original writer completely out of the piece, otherwise, you might as well put your name in the by-line…right?

  4. I was published in Guideposts once and my essay was totally edited to the point that I don’t like admitting that I am the author. What was once a sassy essay with humor, became a sappy story. It still makes me cringe to read it.

  5. Maybe because I’ve edited people who were a little too precious in the revisions process, I don’t tend to care how I’m edited. I tend to think that editors have a pretty thankless job, and I know too many writers (many of whom aren’t even that good, I hate to say) who really need to relax and get over being edited. I’d never act that way in another profession that involves feedback on my work (and what profession doesn’t?), so why get all huffy because writing, almost by its very nature, involves editing? Maybe I’m also lucky: I’ve never had someone completely rewrite something that I was ashamed to have my name on, and I usually find that edits help my work.

    Most of my editors and I also share the same trick: Without tracked changes, it can be harder to spot all the little edits that made the piece stronger but didn’t necessarily compromise the writer’s voice. I find that *not* using tracked changes, both as an editor and a writer receiving edits, is a better way for me to accept edits and have my editorial edits accepted. I can always compare the two pieces later, though I don’t know if other writers do that.

    The only exception to my carefree attitude is when an editor changes a reported piece or interview to contain factual errors. I’ve had that happen twice recently and thankfully, the editor handed the piece back for me to look at before publishing it. THAT would have been embarrassing.

  6. Such an interesting topic! The variety of responses is great. I feel for those of you who felt like your writing was twisted during the editing process. That has to be disappointing.

    I work as an editor and do some freelance writing on the side. I also try to use a light touch when editing, but sometimes more intensive editing is the best option. There is a huge range of writing talent out there. Some writers use really convoluted sentence structures that don’t make a lot of sense. There needs to be a nice logic and flow to the piece and it has to fit the publication.

    I’m sure you’re doing great, Steph! It was nice of you to take the time to explain your reasoning to the writer.

  7. I realize that I am very late to this commenting party, but I just stumbled upon your blog. This post resonated with me — I’m an editor, and one of my main goals in editing is making sure that my changes do not distort an author’s meaning or style. This becomes especially challenging when the author (in my line of work, usually a doctor) is a content expert but not necessarily a strong writer. I think that your explanation to the writer displays your sensitivity to this issue; showing authors that you are on the same team goes a long way toward ensuring a more pleasant editing experience (for both author and editor).

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