By Ginny Rogers
If you’re a writer, you’ve probably seen discussions on social media that argue about the value of editors. Some people (mostly editors) maintain that writers can’t edit their own work; others (mostly writers) steadfastly insist that editing is part of the writing process and they have no need for somebody to clean up their work. So who is right?
Oddly, both sides are. Editing is in fact a distinct part of the writing process. When you write something—at least, something less ephemeral than a Facebook post or a Tweet—it’s advisable to read through your draft multiple times. Rarely, if ever, does anything spring from your mind fully formed and perfectly worded. Editing helps you clarify your thoughts, hone your word choice, and make sure you say what you mean. As a writer, only YOU know what you want to say.
At the same time, it’s astonishingly easy to let what you know you want to say get in the way of actually saying it. Whether you put words on screen or on paper, the translation from concept to black-and-white text doesn’t always happen smoothly. Maybe you know exactly what you want to say but can’t think of precisely the right word to express a specific thought. Or maybe you have a general idea but haven’t really described it to yourself in concrete terms.
The pitfall is thinking that because you know what you want to say, that’s in fact what you wrote. But when you know so well what’s in your mind, it can be difficult to tell if the words you wrote actually say what you intended. Sometimes knowing what you want to say makes you think you’ve said it, even if you haven’t. Even editors need someone to edit what they write.
That’s where editors come in handy: to make sure your words truly say what you mean. Their objective perspective lets them evaluate the text honestly, without the bias of knowing what you meant to say. And even when you do get the ideas down accurately, another pair of eyes can help you smooth out rough edges, double-check grammar and spelling, and catch subtle missteps like “then” instead of “than” or “tree” instead of “three.”
As an editor, I should know. I always need a second pair of eyes, and I don’t mean my glasses.
Ginny Rogers targets word choice, style, tone, organization, flow, and development in addition to essential grammar, spelling, and punctuation.