There’s a little twist with this installment of How We Edit. Instead of an editor talking about her work and approaches, here’s a conversation between two editors who work together managing website content for a podcast: Kate Sánchez and Lizzy Garcia of But Why Tho?. Kate is But Why Tho?‘s founder and editor-in-chief. Lizzy is the social media manager and editor. They also have day jobs: Lizzy is a marketing coordinator for a crane company. She creates collateral, graphics, and various content related to their jobs and needs, in addition to planning and scheduling events. Kate works as a sourcing analyst at a large tech company where she handles market analysis and helps build diversity strategies.
I didn’t intend for this piece to be a back-and-forth conversation, but their dynamic duo powers turned it into one. I’ll let them handle the rest.
What is your ideal kind of project to edit? How do you handle this type of project differently compared to a more “basic” or utilitarian one?
Lizzy: I feel most comfortable editing reviews and think pieces on pop culture topics. Where I am in my career as an editor and marketing coordinator, I only like to edit things that I think I could reasonably write—or that are similar to the content I create. One of my worst fears is editing something without the sensitivity or knowledge of the audience and/or writer. For example, I co-edit But Why Tho? pieces with Kate. I tend to give her a lot of the anime pieces since that is more in her wheelhouse.
Kate: I’m similar to Lizzy: I love editing longer think pieces. With my academic background, these pieces allow me to flex my academic rigor by editing not only for grammar but also focusing on the argument itself. I love poking holes in pieces and seeing those I edit grow and push themselves. For me, these pieces are more than just grammar. On our site, I’ve worked to cultivate a writing culture of sincerity and emotion…all placed on a solid bed of research. That being said, my style of editing can be harsh. I’m straightforward and to-the-point on these projects, which for some people—who are either newcomers to having their work edited or are genuinely my self-conscious about their work—is too much. I’ve been trying to get better with it and I rely on Lizzy to look them over first, so I know if something is too strong.
Bring us into your process. How do you start work on (1) a book (2) an article or essay and (3) an early- or mid-process draft vs. a near-final one? What are the first few things you do?
Lizzy: I usually jump into grammar and formatting of an article first. Then, once I feel that is done I focus on content: Does it answer the question it poses? Does it answer it well? Is there an argument here that could be debunked and needs to be stronger? My goal in editing is to make the other person’s piece stronger. I want my fellow contributors to feel that, because of my edits and the changes I propose, they are challenged to be better writers and create better content. I also usually encourage writers who are stuck to show me what they have. Sometimes the best way out of writer’s block is to see someone’s else edits or suggestions. I believe in multiple drafts as a way to help the writers get where they want to get.
Kate: First, I read it out loud and edit as I go. The easiest way for me to edit is to process a piece a whole—and honestly, reading out loud helps me catch things my brain might skip over, like missing articles or other words. I also write out my questions that I have as I’m reading. For example, if someone writes “The mechanics are good” and then they don’t go on to explain them, I will write in red “But what are they?” After I do my initial pass I’ll go to the questions I had while reading and see if and where they were answered. I’ll rearrange pieces if I need to, and once I feel like the piece is done I’ll run a grammar and spelling check for anything I missed in my first read through. Finally I go through it one more time to make sure that tools like Grammarly didn’t miss anything. The other added bit of editing I do is going through and making sure that statements of fact are hyperlinked to their sources.
What kinds of editing tools do you use regularly?: Find and replace? Specific macros or software? Spellcheck and/or custom dictionaries?
Lizzy: Grammarly. I LOVE Grammarly. Our site uses WordPress—which offers a lot of tools—but overall Grammarly is the best grammar check out there. Also, I co-edit with Kate, so knowing we have a system that makes sure everything is given multiple once-overs helps a lot.
Kate: I use Grammarly and our integrated WordPress spell checking tool. But the biggest help is Google. I don’t trust any statements of fact in an article I read unless I can see the source for it. Fact checking is something I learned as an academic and something I think more editors need to do when publishing online content. I also co-edit with Lizzy, especially when I’ve felt rushed, to make sure things look good before scheduling pieces.
I’m a big fan of learning from mistakes, so: What have you had to learn the hard way about the editing process and about yourself as an editor?
Lizzy: I have learned that some days I am not a good editor—and that it’s ok to be ‘off’ some days. Editing can be an emotionally and mentally taxing job. I often forget that using my brain for long hours at a time has the same impact as running a marathon. A few times I tried editing on ‘off’ days when I had health and other personal issues happening, and I missed some issues in the pieces I was editing. Thankfully, Kate caught them. The best thing to do is be honest about your health and limitations. If you are honest and set realistic expectations people will respect you more and remember that you are human.
Kate: Use grammar- and spell-checkers to enhance pieces, but don’t rely on them to catch everything. I’ve made this mistake a few times and have been embarrassed when reading a piece we published that I edited. There are limitations to automated programs: they don’t always catch wrong word usage or context. I’ve also learned to delegate responsibilities and trust Lizzy instead of putting everything on myself to carry. And honestly—this is something I learned in grad school and not so much editing work for my site—not taking things personally is important, as is making sure that you set your tone with those edits. It’s important to understand that editing can break some people down, so I need to know how to deal with that. But it’s also taught me to understand that it’s okay to be questioned—and even to be wrong.
Curious to know more about them and their work? But Why Tho? is a great podcast and welcoming community that addresses all kinds of great geek culture topics: comics, films, LEGO, video games, years in review, Stan Lee, and many other things. See their articles and other content at https://butwhythopodcast.com/articles/.
If you want to participate and show off your editing methods, let me know via Twitter or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).