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That’s Not What I Wrote! What to Do When You’re Hit With Heavy Editing

Carol Tice

Surprised businesswoman at computerBy Sophie Lizard

You get childishly excited the day you know your writing’s being published.

Your morning starts with a birthday kind of feeling – you wake up with a smile, and rush breakfast because you can’t wait to check out your latest work.

You’re still smiling when you open it up and start reading… but it’s all wrong.

This isn’t what you wrote. It doesn’t even look like your work anymore.

Boom! You’ve been hit with a heavy edit. And it doesn’t feel good.

Hey, I’ve been there. It might not feel like it at first, but this experience is your springboard to better, faster and more lucrative writing.

How’s that? Here’s how to handle it when your published article barely resembles the one you submitted:

React Like a Professional

The first thing to do is calmly ask the editor to debrief you on the changes. If you’re lucky, you’ll find your editor has the time, patience and teaching skills to help you understand why changes were necessary.

An editor like this is an invaluable asset to your freelance writing career. They’ll become your mentor and editing surgeon, giving you the writing equivalent of work at a teaching hospital. You’ll improve with every bit of feedback you absorb, so make the most of this opportunity and learn all you can.

Learning why an editor makes changes doesn’t only improve your writing. It also helps you to understand your client better, which makes getting repeat assignments easier.

Learn From Those Who Won’t Teach

Not every editor is an ideal mentor: they may be too busy to explain the changes to you, or they may make changes that you truly hate without giving you a reason. That’s OK – you can learn even from an editor who won’t teach you!

Don’t argue with your editor about changes unless they’ve accidentally distorted the facts of your piece. Editing is their job, and they’re doing it, so keep the focus on how you can deliver what your client wants.

If you’ve taken some heavy editing, then your work may not have been perfectly aligned with the publication’s editorial objectives. Analyze the changes, and you’ll start to see potential reasons for your editor’s decisions.

Know Your Editor’s Motives

If you work with one editor repeatedly, your mission is to learn to read the editor’s mind. Instead of writing something they’ll change, you can predict the changes and make them yourself.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are opening and closing paragraphs redone, but the midsection is unchanged? If so, they may be aiming for stronger reader engagement, and it’ll be well worth your time to figure out what tactics they’re using.
  • Are paragraphs reshuffled? Then learn the structure they prefer, and apply it to your writing for this project. They may want an article with an inverted pyramid structure, one that always presents facts before opinions, or one that follows a problem-solution-instruction sequence, for example.
  • Have personal anecdotes or opinions been cut? Writing from personal experience works well for some projects, and may save you a bit of research time. But if this happens, try making a fact-focused submission to this editor next time and see what happens.
  • How simple is the final vocabulary and structure? Many editors have a target reading age or other readability criteria to consider. If they’re switching long, writerly words and sentences for short, simple ones then you need to adjust your writing to match.

Once you’ve learned how your editor thinks, you’ll be able to write on-target first drafts and spend less time on each piece. That means you can earn more, and faster!

Guide an Inexperienced Editor

On some freelance writing projects, your “editor” may have zero editing experience. It happens more often than you might think: You could be working with a small business CEO, a designer, or a fellow writer taking on their first editing role. If an inexperienced editor makes a lot of changes to your work, you have two options:

  1. Take your pay and take the edits. As long as they’re not damaging your reputation as a writer, the changes matter less than the money!
  2. Politely argue against edits you think are detrimental. This can benefit both you and your client, but it means spending extra time on the project, so keep your argument concise.

Remember, if you spend a lot of time discussing your writing with an inexperienced editor or offering them editing advice, you’ll need to charge a higher fee to cover the extra hours and added value!

Let’s be honest: Almost every freelance writer has had their work changed by an editor. Think of it as a badge of experience and an opportunity to show your worth.

Because if there’s one thing editors love, it’s a writer who can learn to adapt.

How have you dealt with major edits? Leave a comment and share your strategy.

Sophie Lizard is on a mission to help you increase your income through freelance blogging. Find her at Be A Freelance Blogger and grab your free copy of The Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs: 45 Blogs That Will Pay You $50 or More!