What's the purpose of an editor?
- Do you think you have it all figured out when it comes to writing?
- Does "everyone who reads" your work tell you it's "great" and they "love it"?
Well, even those people need editors.
First, a personal story of thinking I had it all figured out with writing:
It's no surprise that growing up, I wrote all the time. I wrote for school, I wrote for fun, I was editor of my high school newspaper, I loved English and Journalism class, I even wanted to major in Journalism (though didn't). Everyone who read my work always applauded it, saying I, and my writing, was words like, "articulate" and "raw." I always would receive such positive feedback on my writing that I built up this confidence, thinking, Maybe I could make a career out of this.
Enter: English I in college. The assignment was to write a paper (the prompt, I can't quite remember) and I poured my heart and soul into it, thinking, This is surely going to get an A. I followed all the directions and then some. The teacher will love it so much, I was convinced, she'd probably read it aloud to the class. Have it serve as a model for "this is how you should write." Use it as an example on the syllabus. Something.
Imagine my surprise when I got that paper back and it was a B-. Never, had I ever received anything less than an A on any writing assignment. Me? Get a B-? Never. It had to be a mistake.
Turns out--it wasn't. It was real. I got a B-, and for good reason. This teacher wasn't easy when it came to grades, especially for us overconfident in writing. What this teacher taught me, however, even at the age of eighteen, is there is always room for improvement in writing, and I'll never stop learning or honing my craft. It just takes someone who is willing to tell the truth to start that improvement.
Realizing the real value of an editor
Now, in my line of work as an editor, I've come to realize a few important things about editors, teachers, and peers who evaluate writing, whether for a living, for a class, for fun, or for a grade. The value of an honest, un-sugar-coated, real, "articulate", and "raw" editor is immeasurable.
Here's 3 things editors do for you and your writing that you may have never considered:
- Editors are not just a "human spellchecker." People have said to me, as an editor, "You realize I'm paying you to do what spellcheck does for free, right?" Wrong. While spellcheck is great, don't get me wrong--and has even saved my own butt a couple of times--it cannot and will not check everything. It doesn't check for context. It minimally checks grammar. It doesn't check for quotation marks facing the wrong way (a frequent issue I run into these days). It doesn't check for quality. It follows a simple formula and isn't "trained" to detect missing words or incorrect transcription during talk-to-type, for instance (another frequent issue I run into when reading manuscripts).
- It's impossible to edit your own work. It's a fact: even editors cannot edit their own work most of the time. In fact, I can almost guarantee you there's a mistake somewhere in this blog. It happens. We're humans. We're close to what we write. We see it and feel it like we want to see and feel it. There's no training, experience, or thought process that will take any of that away because it's the way we are. Which is why I always highly recommend having someone else proofread your work, reading it out loud to catch mistakes that may not otherwise be visible. So, don't be surprised if an editor writes something with a mistake in it once or twice: we're human and we make mistakes, too. Editors need editors.
- You need a neutral, third-party opinion. There is no way to measure the value of someone who is neutral, unbiased, and doesn't know you look at your work. Editors should be this way: it's what makes us good at our job. If an editor isn't going to tell you the truth, who will? Because chances are, all the people who "read what you wrote and loved it" (just like me, remember?) are people who know you and therefore, whether they want to admit it or not, have a bias. Bias, whether conscious or subconscious, will always cloud the ability to offer constructive criticism.
In the end, having someone who isn't close to you not only look at your work, but offer you honest feedback, is an absolute necessity in the success of your writing. Otherwise, all you have to go on is what people who know you tell you about your work and, well, let's face it: they don't want to hurt your feelings. Take it from me: it took a critical and helpful college professor to jolt me into this reality.
Questions? Comments? Please comment below and I'll get back to you.