If you ever have tried to slice a tomato with a dull knife, you know the inevitable result: a smushed tomato and pulpy tomato innards all over the cutting board. You now have to choose whether to be content with the pulpiness or to try again. You know, though, that the results will be the same, so why try again? Doing so won’t make any impact on the flavor of the tomato, only on the presentation of the tomato.
Perhaps you will try again, but you’ll use a different knife. You’ll buy a new knife, or you’ll sharpen the current one. You’ll watch as your knife slices through the tomato. You’ll see circular slice after circular slice pile on the cutting board. You’ll have sliced tomatoes that you could serve to a king or queen. You might even try it, if you knew a king or queen.
Sometimes, editing is a dull knife. It can occur when an editor has a different idea for the work than the one the writer intended. It can occur when the editor focuses on a minuscule portion of the text and forgets to consider the work in its entirety. When it does occur, it only ruins what could have been a good piece of writing. A dull knife leaves marks everywhere but never in the right spot. It hacks haphazardly at the writing until all that remains are pulpy pages of paper on the floor or pulpy, mangled sentences all over the screen. A dull knife never gets to the heart of the matter. It can’t and doesn’t perform the function for which it was designed.
In contrast, a sharp knife does get to the heart of the matter. It finds where the central problem lies. It doesn’t hack sentences willy-nilly. The editing is done with a purpose. The editor with such a knife doesn’t get stuck in a mire of details; the editor may note them, but he or she does so while keeping the entire work in mind. The editor puts aside his or her sense of “rightness” regarding the text and works in conjunction with the writer. The editor may make suggestions about the work, but those suggestions always have the aim of slicing the writing into something admirable, something that can be served to a king or queen.
Photo: JD Hancock (CC BY 2.0)