I have been editing for a long time now. In the last 20 years I’ve edited everything from television scripts and documentaries to musician bios, press kits and websites.
In all that time, I’ve noticed a consistent mistake that everyone tends to make–a simple concept that can save a writer a great deal of time and agony in the second and third draft processes.
My most frequent critique of all written work is that the material fails somehow to give a reader unfamiliar with the subject matter the right amount of simple, jargon-free information to really understand what’s going on in the text.
For example; once I edited a television script that mentioned the U.S. Air Force’s AWACS aircraft. AWACS stands for Airborne Warning and Control System.
That all by itself seemed to be enough in the original script until the helpful reminder that even though the story would air for a largely military audience, not everyone sitting in front of the TV would understand that “Airborne Warning And Control” meant basically an airplane full of a bunch of people with electronic eyes on a battlefield–they were watching so that an Air Force fighter pilot, flying at hundreds of miles an hour and in dire need of full concentration to avoid crashing, wouldn’t have to.
Book editing–ANY kind of editing, really–is a challenge because you have to have two minds at once. You need the author’s mind to know where the work is supposed to go, what the writer wants to achieve page after page. But you also have to read with the audience’s mind and strike the balance between keeping the reader and keeping the narrative on target.
I mention all this because as a freelancer, you can use this concept to your advantage in your own work. Learning to think with two minds isn’t an easy thing to do, but it has served me well over the years as I try to balance the writer’s intent with the audience’s need. Especially when it comes to writing proposals for new clients and my own marketing copy.
I also mention it because if you take a side gig or two as a book or script editor, you can get amazing insights to your own work. Imagine what happens when you start seeing the writing process through an editor’s eyes and adjust your own material accordingly. Book and script editing could be the type of training you’ve been looking for all along…it certainly was for me.
Joe Wallace is a freelance editor and writer. He is currently editing a book on voice acting. He also spends a fair amount of time ghost writing and editing for a confidential client, and is preparing to start a new project in the video game industry. Wallace brings the snark about bad album covers and vinyl collecting at Turntabling.net. Contact him about your next project by e-mailing him: firstname.lastname@example.org