7 Things I Learned From Editing Over Christmas

So you may have noticed my prolonged and unusual absence for the past few weeks. I like to think that you did–that you sat eagerly at your computer every Tuesday night hopefully watching for “Everyday Terrors” to show up in your email or news feed or reader, eventually giving up late into the evening and drowning your sorrows in large mugs of tea, coffee, and other things.
Allow me to explain and apologise: I spent every spare moment for the past few weeks working on a freelance editing job. I got the assignment in October, expected it to be a relatively quick job, balanced it with homework, work, and Netflix for a few months, hit Christmas, and panicked. Turns out the thing took much longer than I had anticipated. Never fear–I finished it the day before my deadline and had time for a few proofreading passes before I turned it in. Since you, my readers, fall into the category of things sacrificed for the job (along with other vital things like my own writing, movies with my family, and naps), I believe I owe it to you to at least detail some lessons I learned from the experience.

1: Starting with a plan is important.
Yeah, I prefer to just wing things. But probably if I’d set little deadlines for myself and come up with a system for marking the piece up back before Christmas Eve, I would’ve had more free time over my holiday. By the time Christmas was over, I had a pretty simple system set up, and the rewrite was easier because of that, but I could’ve saved a lot of time by planning my attack beforehand.


2: Balance matters.
The piece needed a lot of editing. The whole point of my first pass was to go into each page and specifically mark what needed to be fixed and how I should fix it. After several hours of staring at my screen, I several times caught myself highlighting entire pages at a time and writing, “Fix it” in the margin. That is not helpful. Frequent breaks kept me from losing perspective and making a mess that I had to clean up later.


3:  Family shouldn’t pay for my bad judgment.
Christmas holiday is supposed to involve a lot of sleeping and relaxing, right, so that you get back to school all…refreshed or whatever. Mine did not. Mine involved sitting up in bed past three and four in the morning, fingers trembling with exhaustion as I rewrote yet another sentence or fixed just one more typo. Why? Because I go home at Christmas for my family, and they deserve to have me present; it’s not their fault I didn’t get my project done before finals week. So I played card games, made lattes, went hiking, and cosplayed for The Hobbit with my brother, and then, in spare moments during the days and late into the nights, I edited.


4: Noticing patterns helps.
There’s some carryover to a deep life lesson, I think. It took me all of a few chapters to figure out that the author of this particular piece had a few pet phrases and favourite mistakes. Once I realised that these phrases and errors would show up consistently throughout the piece, I could quit wasting my time on each individual error and simply make a note of the overall issue. Then I came back later, once I finished rewriting, and addressed those ubiquitous errors in one pass. Thank heavens for cmd+F! I think there’s a life application in there somewhere. Something about not getting hung up on the same petty issues over and over, or recognising patterns to address as a whole, or something. Take it and run with it.


5: There are no throwaway days.
I have these days where I feel like nothing I do should matter, like for some reason today should be a bonus day, with no ramifications tomorrow. But there aren’t any of those. If I took a throwaway day on this project, I had to work twice as hard some other day, whether that meant kicking out a hundred pages in a night instead of fifty or whether it carried all the way to my final pass. I write pretty unprofessional editing notes when I know nobody else will see them, but some of them just got ridiculous. When I went back for the rewrite, I noticed all my throwaway days–entire pages highlighted with eloquent notes like, “Blargh” or “Wait really?” You can’t just chuck a day out the window. Days are like boomerangs. They come back for you eventually.


6: Done is never done. But that’s okay.
Even as I’m writing this, I’m remembering that I forgot to go back and cmd+F all the double spaces, and I’m kicking myself for it. (Hypothetically. I’m actually curled up in a fluffy blanket drinking tea…) Every time I thought I was done that project, I’d remember something else I needed to touch up or some other word I needed to find to make certain it was spelled consistently throughout the piece. It’s kind of like real life. There will always be one more thing you feel like you should do, one more place to go, one more thing to see. You will never, ever finish. And that’s okay.


7: My way isn’t (always) the best way.
Okay, sometimes I’m pretty phenomenal; I won’t back down on that. I mean, drinking tea by the potful is definitely always the best way. But when it comes to writing, everyone’s different. And that’s okay. On my rewrite through this piece, I found a lot of notes in the first chapters that I discarded. Most were suggesting rewrites of various sections, because when I went through the first few chapters, I didn’t know this author’s voice yet, and I have a tendency to rewrite everyone’s writing to match my own style. One of the challenges of this piece was that it’s a genre I don’t usually work in. It took a long time to figure out that some of what I initially viewed as horrendous writing that needed major changes was really just someone else’s unique approach to her own genre. I had to learn to respect that.


Maybe some of those things blew your mind and changed your perspective. Maybe you didn’t even read the words, just laughed at the gifs. I don’t judge. Laughing at gifs improves your psychological health or something; I’m pretty sure I read that on the internet. In the end, the important thing is, I finished the job–I finished it by the time I said I would, and I did a good enough job that I’m not ashamed to have my name connected with it. And I’m back to you.