The Art of Editing

Before COVID-19 changed all our lives, I facilitated a writer’s group and one of the members was Riley Pettyjohn. Besides writing, she was also taking an editing course and I’m pleased to introduce everyone to our newest certified editor.

Tell me a bit about the process you went through to become an editor.

At first, I wasn’t really sure how to go about getting into editing and publishing as a profession. While I was reading up on some other editors’ beginnings, I found the Editing Certificate course that the UW Professional & Continuing Education offers. So, I enrolled in November of 2019 and received my certificate early this December. The course was great—not only for editors, but writers, too! There are three consecutive classes you take in order to complete the program, each one focusing on a specific type of editing. The panel of instructors are all very knowledgeable and helpful in their editing specialties. One instructor, Ingrid Emerick, is a co-founder and CEO of a small self-publishing company in Seattle called Girl Friday Productions (GFP). She encouraged me to apply for their internship program. I was an Editorial Intern with GFP for about four months. Through the internship I got some real-world experience with the tasks of editors and was able to meet with several people from the various departments at GFP. It was the advice from my instructors in the editing course and the people of GFP that helped me to formulate my next steps as a new editor. I also just recently joined the Northwest Editors Guild and am a freelance editor there, but I’m still building my career.

How did COVID-19 impact you during this process?

I was extremely lucky that I had already opted for the online and self-paced version of the editing course back in 2019, so my schooling schedule was completely unaffected by COVID. But, sadly, my internship with GFP would have been in person had it not been for COVID. So, I missed out on that part of the experience. Luckily, I was able to use Zoom for meetings, and all my tasks were able to be done over the internet. I may have met even more people this way than I would have in person since some of the meetings I had were with people who worked out of state. So, there’s a silver lining to everything.

You are also a writer. How do you incorporate your editing skills into writing?

I think all this new knowledge of the editing process makes me look at writing differently than I did before; I have a more technical perspective. I think it’s helped make my writing more concise and easier to read when I look over it again. But my familiarity with The Chicago Manual of Style has sort of slowed my writing pace because I put more thought into the punctuation I’m using and the different rules I choose to follow as I write.

Do you find yourself editing as you write?

I do edit as I write. I try not to do it too much so that the thoughts can flow, then go back and clean it up. But I can get so caught up with trying to make everything perfect the first time around. I find myself reading over a line I just wrote a billion times, asking myself if it looks right. Meanwhile, my train of thought has been totally derailed. I even find myself editing my shopping lists. So, it’s a balance that I’m working on finding.

What do you think is the most important thing in a relationship between a writer and an editor, besides the obvious need for trust?

I think being flexible and open is really important on both sides, especially if an editor is working directly with an author. If both parties are willing to have an open discussion about the project they’re working on—to really listen and work together—everything will run pretty smoothly. 

There are a lot of editors who set specific standards, such as only Christian, certain genres, non-fiction, no poetry, etc. Do you anticipate doing something similar, and why, or why not?

Because I’m so new at it, I don’t really have specific things I won’t do yet. I’d like to try my hand at a lot of things, to keep my range broad and stay challenged. That said, my favorite things to work on so far have been novels, particularly fiction. I just love to be a part of bringing a story to life. And on the opposite end, while I enjoy reading it, I don’t see myself editing a lot of poetry.

On a similar note, is there a specific genre or type of writing that you find harder to edit than others?

I do find poetry to be hard for me. There are just so many more artistic aspects that need to be considered, and I’m unfamiliar with the technical styles involved. I also find extremely technical or scientific academic papers and textbook materials to be more challenging.

When did you first realize you were a storyteller?

I began writing as soon as I learned how; I don’t even remember the first time. I used to spend hours at my parents’ computer or with a notebook, typing or scribbling fairy stories. I was a chronic daydreamer—still am. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always “A writer.” 

How does being a writer impact the editor side of you?

I think my writer side ofttimes overpowers my editor side which allows me to be a little more empathetic to the writer as I read their work. But it can also be a struggle when I keep asking myself “Should I query this? What if it was an artistic choice? Who am I to question or change someone else’s writing?” And I have to remind myself that it’s just a suggestion and a writer may love or hate it, but it’s better to query than not when working as an editor.

If someone wants to hire you as an editor, where will they find you?

Currently, you can contact me through my email: riley.pettyjohn7@gmail.com

On LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rileypettyjohn/

Or on the Northwest Editors Guild Member Directory: https://www.edsguild.org/member-directory

What is one question I didn’t ask, that you wish I would have, and how would you answer it?

What types of editing do you do?

I enjoy copyediting and line editing the most, but I also like to proofread. I mostly like to polish up works and help them to shine. 

What are your goals as an editor?

My biggest goal is to get into publishing. I would love to work for a publishing house and help manuscripts become books.