We freelancers are no different from other professionals. We live our lives by the clock. If a project takes too long in the client’s eyes, we probably won’t have that client for very long. Over the years, I’ve noticed something about the kinds of tasks I do as a freelance writer. Some of them take a lot more time than you’d think, and one of those tasks is editing.
Everyone seems to be under the impression that it’s easier to edit and shape someone else’s words than it is to write something new from scratch. Oh, if only that were so. The truth is, you have to ask whose words you’re editing. Were they written by someone who has experience as a writer, or are they the rambling thoughts of someone who is trying to get everything down as fast as possible?
I’m not at all opposed to people rambling. It’s quite awesome because it means the client cares enough to get involved in your process. But problems start to arise when the client expects you to shape and edit those ramblings in less time than it would take you to write a totally new piece.
Some editing is no different from writing.
When I’m working with my own words, I can generally edit them very very fast. There’s a simple reason for that. If my thoughts aren’t concise and clear, I don’t write them down. By the time they’ve made the page, they’ve already passed a number of my own personal tests.
It’s different with a client’s words. Not all clients have the ability to write clearly, and that’s a very good thing. If they could, there wouldn’t be a market for your skills. When editing your client’s words, you’re working with a lot of half thoughts, run-on sentences, and personal asides that can trash the flow of the piece.
Whenever I’m working with my clients’ words, I find myself spending a lot of time thinking up ways to bridge the gaps between sentences that don’t flow together. I’m deciphering half thoughts and paragraphs that don’t start out with a clear thesis statement. This is not the same as glancing over a bit of copy and finding a sentence that needs a comma. You’ve gotta think everything through.
Ironically, this process is actually a lot more time consuming than writing from a piece from scratch. That’s because you aren’t working with your own pieces of the puzzle. You’re trying to combine an incomplete thought with an aside, and that means you’ll need to make that thought complete before continuing on. At least when you start fresh, you get to design the pieces (your words, sentences, and paragraphs) so they fit together. Once you start, everything just snaps into place.
I usually spend at least the same amount of time editing a piece as I do writing it from scratch. You can love it or hate it, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Do I charge the same price for editing as I do for writing? Yes. It’s my time, and it’s valuable.
To be a world class editor, you need to be world class writer. Good editors don’t function as the comma inspector. They help their clients rearrange the piece (i.e. the puzzle) so it flows better. Quality editors take the time to organize ideas so they are more clear to the reader. This is not something you could program a computer to do (yet). It requires true creativity and a willingness to experiment with several different solutions.
Setting Client Expectations.
So if a client approaches you and expects you to do a quick edit, remember this article. Chances are your edit will take about as much time as writing the piece from scratch. In other words, clients get no clear cost or time savings from doing the writing on their own. The exercise merely helps them organize their ideas so you don’t have to guess what they’re thinking.
I tell my clients that editing takes about the same amount of time as writing. I tell this to them upfront, so the assumption isn’t hanging in the air. If they understand, great. If not, there are many others who do.