Yours sincerely! The challenges of a freelance editor

Thoughts from a punctuation pedant.

It’s now over a year since I went fully freelance as a proofreader / copy-editor, and I have learned so much in that time – things I would never have learned purely from research and planning: my EXPERIENCE of how I cope (or don’t cope!) without the structures I used to have imposed on me from schooldays, and later in working for big businesses.

It’s also been revealing to discover WHAT MY CLIENTS NEED FROM ME in my new guise as a freelance member of the grammar police!

On the plus side, I’m really enjoying:

  • waking up naturally without an alarm – bliss!
  • the freedom to switch my plans from Monday to “Anyday” if I’m called upon for “Nanny duties”Hammock
  • getting a seat on the train because it’s after rush hour when I travel into London for business or pleasure!
  • being able to work remotely (in a hammock even!)
  • and most of all – the work I’m doing because it’s fun! It’s what I love and do best!

But there is a cost for these:

  • sitting at my desk in my dressing gown makes me lazy … I’m still there past lunchtime without having had any exercise = yes, I’m gaining weight!
  • if I had assigned myself two days to complete a job, but I then prioritise family, my clients may not get their work done within the promised timeframe = stress for me!
  • I no longer have a season ticket for travel into London, whether for business or pleasure = I need to think about the cost if I want to go to business events
  • although I love the work I’m doing, I can unwittingly spend hours longer over the course of a day than I would have done at the 9 – 5, where the working hours are defined = family life can suffer


Hence, some reflection on the past year, and some commitments to self:

I no longer stay in my PJs: I “get ready for work” during the weekdays, so that my mind is in focus and I am prepared for whatever may happen – it might be a Skype call so I’d rather have my professional face on!

Now the summer has reached us at long last, I am going to fulfill a promise I made to myself, to go for a lunchtime walk every day, to keep supple and burn off some of those pounds!

Nanny-duties have to wait till the afternoons or the end of the week (unless it’s an emergency) and I stick to my task schedule as far as I can.

When social occasions or meet-ups with ex-colleagues are planned, I have to think carefully if I can combine the trip with a networking event or a trade show that is likely to benefit my business, and then I can legitimately add my fares to my business travel expenses.

About the business – putting things right

One of the misconceptions about what I do is that people think proofreading is the same as copy editing, and copy-editing is the same as copy-writing.

Uh-uh! Not the same at all!

Proofreading is the very least that needs to be done to a piece of writing – it needs to be checked for correct spelling and punctuation, and for correct basic grammar.

But to be true to myself, I can’t do JUST that!

I would be extremely unhappy to just return a book manuscript to an author having done no more than run it through a spell-check in Microsoft Word. In fact, probably the writer has already done that himself if he has taken notice of the red and green squiggly lines underneath his work.

There are even tools that point out where you have tapped the spacebar twice instead of once, or where you have written U.S.A. and then later USA, or where you have spelt a character’s name Michelle and then Michele, all tremendously useful.

But I do have to wear my copy-editor’s hat on top of the proofreader’s hat, as I will spot things that are not necessarily WRONG, but with a little tweaking, just make the writing NICER, or GENTLER ON THE EAR, or more RELEVANT.

Without intruding too far into the writer’s own words, I consider it the very least I should do to bring a draft to a more professional level, and this might include listening to the style or tone of the writing and ensuring it is consistent, and quite likely a little restructuring will be necessary to achieve that.



Some have made enquiries of me for copywriting. Now I don’t mean to say I can’t write, but copywriting means WRITING, not EDITING, (although that will be a skill a good copywriter has), and at the moment, I prefer to focus on perfecting content that’s already written.

While I have the technical skill to ensure someone’s writing is grammatically correct, I am not offering to write the CONTENT itself. Every topic has its experts – whether the subject is fishing, needlecraft, travel, baby-care, tropical plants, stand-up comedy, photography – I might have a little experience in some of those areas, but not enough to write the copy for an article or a publication.

Copywriters often have to be resourceful and do a fair amount of research into a topic they are unfamiliar with – so it might be worth writing your content yourself since you have the insider knowledge, and then having it checked over by a proofreader for the grammar side.

abc squareAsk me to write about being female, or about my last holiday, or about working for a corporate organisation and I will write reams and reams – in fact I’d have a lot of trouble trying to stay within the prescribed word count!

So, no, I have to make it clear that I am the one with the metaphorical red pen, who will cross out your mistakes and try to teach you how to get it right next time, so that maybe

YOU WILL NEED TO PAY ME FOR LESS TIME on the next manuscript I copy-edit for you!


So here’s what I’d like to know from you:

  • do you write newsletters or a blog?
  • if not, why not? not enough time? worried about your spelling and grammar?
  • would you read a newsletter with simple tips and tricks for getting punctuation right every time?
  • would you consider having a blog “ghost-written” for you?

Let me know in the “comments” below!


Do let me know what you think!

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