by Ken Walker

It’s the dreaded phrase you have likely heard before or will in the not-too-distant future. I think of it as a convenient catch-all, delivered when the company’s human resources department, your supervisor, or—in the case of Christian PEN members, a would-be author—can’t think of anything better to say.

They say they have “decided to go in another direction.”

No matter how long you’ve been at this and no matter how much you might have expected them, those words still hurt.

When an author I did a sample edit for used them recently, it left me smarting. Fortunately, I learned something from the experience.

In this particular episode, I had to admit I had gone too far in my zeal to improve the author’s first chapter. “The issue I have is that it was more ghostwriting than editing,” he said. “In many places it no longer sounded like me . . . You are a good writer, but that’s not what I’m looking for.”

Yes, ouch.

So, what did I learn?

  • Keep an eye on the fine line between editing and creativity.

With this project, I got carried away. The author’s opening struck me as so ho-hum and in need of refining that instead of editing, I did too much rewriting.

In one place, I added a reference to a book he had never read. I’ve done that with other, previous edits, under the theory that the individual can always change it. But in this case, we hadn’t reached an agreement and the author wasn’t used to my attempts at dressing up his prose.

  • Remember the author’s voice.

On a previous book-editing job for a major publishing house, the editor told me an author had complained I had removed too much of his voice. Since then, I’ve tried to use a lighter hand. Yet, in this most recent instance, I did the exact opposite.

It would have helped to have had a short phone chat with the author, so I had a better feel for him as a person and what he hoped to achieve with his latest book (he had self-published several). But I allowed his rather rushed requested time frame to affect my judgment and went full speed head. Not wise.

  • Admit my failure and move on.

In the past, I have had days—sometimes several—ruined by gloom and disappointment.

I still remember the time 25-plus years ago I had hoped to sell an article to a national publication. When I opened their letter and saw “rejection,” it felt like getting kicked in the gut. Not just because I had failed again, but because I really needed the money. This latest time, I shrugged my shoulders and went back to work. Within two weeks, I had two more requests for editing help in my in-box.

The same is likely to be true in your freelancing. You will win some and lose some. Don’t let the losses throw you for a loop. God has your back.

Experienced. Award-winning. Skilled. For years, Ken Walker has been shaping stories—thousands of them—for books and articles in various venues. He uses his writing and editing talent now to help edit and refine authors’ material, as well as coaching bloggers and other writers on how they can improve their material. In recent years Ken has co-authored or edited more than a dozen health-oriented books. This specialty began with co-authoring Winning the Food Fight, a book that emerged from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, an Emmy-Award-winning mini-series on ABC.