Not every writer plays the role of an editor. Self-editing, technically, isn’t editing – technically, editing for grammar, spelling and structure is only one kind of editing, and copy editors are usually the last to see a piece of writing before it goes to “print.” The more time I spend editing other writers’ work, the better I become at editing my own. To a point.
It’s very difficult for a writer to edit their own content. Possible, but it takes a lot of experience. Eventually you develop the ability to detach yourself from your words enough to cut, rewrite and rearrange without feeling too guilty or overwhelmed. But not everyone can do it well – and certainly not right away. That’s why writers hope for the help of an editor – someone who can look at their writing and help them “fix” it.
The majority of writers are aware that asking someone to write for free is ridiculous. However, for some reason, the same awareness isn’t always applied when a writer is looking for someone to “look over their work.” Which usually means, “Please read my story and give me feedback and make it better.”
Will I edit your work for free? Absolutely not. And, on behalf of all the broke and tired editors out there, here’s why.
I am a control freak.
When I’m editing someone else’s words, I am constantly fighting the urge to change the way they phrase things. The way they present their information. It’s one thing to rewrite a sentence because it’s so passive it makes you hyperventilate. But as an editor, you can’t change what they’re actually saying. Or you’re not supposed to … that’s a rant for another post. It takes a lot of effort for me to critique content without taking matters into my own hands. It’s a skill. Using a skill to do a job means a person should get paid to exercise that skill. I like you. I want to help you. But this is stressful. I’m all out of Stress Me Out for Free coupons.
Most people don’t edit before they submit.
I’ve actually had writers who have told me, “I didn’t have time to edit this, so have fun.” Um, I’m sorry, what? I’m not a magician. And I can’t read minds. I can get a pretty good idea of what you’re trying to say in your [very] rough draft, but I shouldn’t have to read every sentence twice to understand your words. I’m not saying it has to be perfect, but many people don’t even read over what they’ve written before it gets to me. That makes my job so, so much harder. I don’t want a rough draft, unless that’s how the editorial system I’m working under is set up. It’s not my job to “fix” your work. I can help you improve it, but you have to come to me with something that’s further along than what you just typed out last night. That doesn’t usually happen, and THAT is why I spent 2 hours creating my own invoice template when I started freelancing.
Editing is more time-consuming than writing.
Not just because an editor has to comb through your work sentence by sentence. There’s a whole revisions process. You can do your research and write and be done probably in one day if you wanted to. If I have to ask you to fix things and we start going back-and-forth, two days turns into six faster than you’d think. I’m an editor because I want anything I’m responsible for publishing to be as good as it can be. You might rush your writing, but I’m going to work on that story with you until it’s as good as it can be. You can’t expect us to do things like that for free.
Here’s the problem with asking people you know for help and feedback. You’re looking for something we can’t always give you. Even if you did give us a story to look over, we might think it’s great. But our opinion doesn’t matter in the eyes of anyone actually responsible for publishing your work.
Yes, I’m a professional, and yes, I think you’re awesome, but the only person’s opinion that really matters is yours. If you think what you’ve written is good, get out there and try to get it published. But know that any feedback/help you’re going to get … you’re going to have to pay for it. It’s only fair. You don’t like writing for free. We don’t like editing for free. It’s nothing personal.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.