Editing – what is it good for?

Given the discussion generated by the previous post I thought it timely to share my experience of writing for editors, along with the benefits and inevitable frustrations. After this I will get back to writing about actual travel, I promise.

One of the main criticisms levelled at blogging is in its unedited nature. The freedom to hit the Publish button without a second pair of eyes checking your work is either one of the joys of writing a blog, or is its main limitation, depending on your perspective. I’m not going to start another debate on the relative value of edited work – managing the comments on the previous post was far too much like hard work.

When I started this blog I hadn’t had anything published, at least not in any travel publications. It’s fair to say that I wrote mostly garbage for the first year. I was prolific, but I do cringe when I look back at some of the fluff that passed as a blog post. I’m certainly not claiming to be immune to writing rubbish now, but I’ve become a lot more fussy about what I decide to put on here.

Writing for publications that pay you involves that crucial element of having someone look at your work; someone with the power to reject it or, worse still, change it out of all recognition. In most cases the editor’s first role and the biggest hurdle, as far as the writer is concerned, is to commission/reject/ignore an idea for a story. As I’ve become familiar with a few editors my success rate with pitches has improved and I’ve learned to try and come up with something that’s a viable story beyond merely suggesting a destination.

Putting together a decent pitch takes time and involves digging around and getting an angle which you can succinctly sell to the editor. I’ve tried to apply that same approach to 501 Places and this, added to the fact that most ideas from my trips are going to editors in the first instance, has meant that I’ve been left with far fewer things to write about on here.

As for the editing part of the process, I had quite a naive view of this before I got into this lark. Sending my work to an editor has resulted in a number of follow-up actions, some of which have come as a surprise. I’ve heard absolutely nothing for several days/weeks/months and then seen my article online or in print, perhaps with some minor tweaks; I’ve been asked to rewrite all or part of a piece; I’ve had feedback telling me my first submission had too little descriptive detail, too much descriptive detail, that it was not written in a way that would get web clicks, that it was too personal and not personal enough (there are others).

This is all valuable criticism and it’s this critique that makes me value writing for editors. Even when I disagree with them (and I often do) the end result of their meddling is usually a more polished article that works for that particular publication. It’s up to me then to refine the next piece I send in and make that editor’s life that bit easier; that way I figure that they’ll be more inclined to commission me again.

This discipline is a sharp contrast from the freedom and independence attached to blogging. I do enjoy being able to write my own stuff on here without somebody sending me a list of inane questions asking me what something I’ve mentioned is (when it’s actually a country), or whether I can use a different quote from the farmer I interviewed because the words he spoke didn’t fit the style of the publication.

But despite the uncertainty and these occasional frustrations of being subjected to different editing approaches, I’m convinced that working with multiple editors has forced me to sharpen the way in which I write and be more critical about the topics I choose to cover, whether that’s for a paid publication or on 501 Places.

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

3 Responses to “Editing – what is it good for?”

  1. Good thoughts there. I sometimes wish I had more feedback from editors; I notice, particularly when writing for newspapers, that they’re always in a hurry and are therefore likely to use a piece without changes as long as it reads well enough.

    Sometimes though, I’ve had useful feedback which has resulted in a stronger story. But we’re all busy, and so there is a relief in seeing an article published without any further work required. And I have had the occasional over-edit with lots of arbitrary feedback and changes; those are not fun.

    Re blogs, there is a definite danger in editing your own work, but the best blogs do have a spontaneity and personality which partly comes from that quick-publish nature. So it’s swings and roundabouts, I guess.

    April 15, 2014 at 3:37 pm
  2. Personally I prefer reading blogs that are personal and real. Which means that the people are real and the quotes are actual quotes :).

    Being swedish writing in english it is however a bit different.
    When writing in swedish my words sometimes come out differently in english. Word’s I have learnt in english can sometimes be more complex or way too simple for their purpose.
    I always proof read everything a few times before publishing to try and make sure it makes sense, but sometimes I need an extra set of native english speaking eyes to build sentences that express what I want to say :).

    Feedback is always good but I do believe in keeping it as real as possible and as close as possible to the real story.

    Good post! Made me give an extra thought to the occupation.

    April 24, 2014 at 9:43 am
  3. Garbage? come on! This is not true. To write in a free way is the best, and most helpfull I think

    April 25, 2014 at 11:48 am