Writers vs. Editors?


Writing has been a hobby since I could write; editing followed soon after. Honestly, I love editing both my and other’s work. It isn’t as if I like finding errors, it’s that I usually* can’t help it. The part I love is the fixing, the pruning and sprucing. I’ve read that many writers hate the editing process, which I feel is a shame, but not too much of one because…

*I don’t trust anyone to edit his/her work fully, including myself. I can make my work much better, especially if I set it aside for a day or a week or a year, and look at it with fresh eyes, applying new knowledge and more developed writing skills. That doesn’t meant I don’t want someone else to edit my work. Not just anyone, of course, but certainly someone who isn’t me. Why?

1) It is nearly impossible for a writer to catch all of his/her mistakes in a lengthy document (say, a 200-page novel); and

2) Writing for people other than oneself necessitates feedback from other perspectives.

Don’t believe me about number one? Okay. Let’s talk about brains.

Brains do funny things. Every time you could have sworn you put the waffles in the shopping cart, or explained in extreme detail how to get from point A to point B but couldn’t remember the name of a street in your own neighborhood, or couldn’t get “Carry on My Wayward Son”** out of your head, that was your brain being weird. Or maybe it was just being itself and who am I to judge? Whatever – brains are weird.

Case in point: Let’s travel back in time to 1992. It was Crazy Sock Day, and my teacher had just asked me to tell her what was wrong with a sentence in a paragraph I had written. I told her I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.

“Okay, read that sentence out loud,” she said, pointing to the middle of the paragraph. I read it out loud and shrugged; there wasn’t anything wrong with it.

She smiled, and said,

“Don’t read what you THINK it says – read what it says.” I gave her a “you incomprehensibly weird adult” look but read it again. Nothing wrong.

“Read it more slowly,” she said. Fine. I read it very slowly, and,

“Oh.” I had accidentally left out a word. I could have sworn it was there, each time I’d read it!

What had happened, she explained, was that I was “reading” what I thought I had written, not what I had actually written.

This has happened more than a few times over the years, although I’ve noticed that it’s less likely to occur the more time has passed between writing and reviewing. Of course, there isn’t always time to wait and forget what you [think that you] wrote. You can get around this by being really really careful, which can work, or by bringing in some wonderfully nit-picky person who doesn’t have what you intended to write in her head.

Number two deals more with content and style than the absolutes of grammar and punctuation. If I had a million dollars, part of it would go to pay an excellent editor to tell me things like, “Your audience knows that already. Trust me, 87% of this hypothetical group of future readers have figured it out by now. The others aren’t in fifth grade yet.” I would pay more to have the editor tell me these things in Old San Juan. In Spanish, which, as a rich person, I would have learned because I took classes and practiced with Rosetta Stone and a private tutor (because we second-language teachers need to stick together!).

My dream editor would also be on call to help me write conclusions to blog posts.

**At least it’s not “Call Me Maybe.” Aww, dangit.

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