For a creative person, the difference between reading “You suck!” and reading “Here’s where I think you made some wrong decisions” is the difference between being shamed into crawling under the covers and never putting their work out there ever again, and being encouraged to make their product better. We should always, always aim to do the latter. – Rian
I have an odd relationship with editing, primarily because I’ve followed different veins of it. I’ve been a copy editor for a newspaper (Ancient history, but still.). I’ve been an editor for a few journals, mostly ones from my undergraduate and graduate school days. I’ve also been an editor of other people’s writing, both their professional or creative work.
That editing brings the other two editing roles together. The first role focuses on mistakes in the copy, i.e., spelling, punctuation, and grammar; the second focuses on the ideas. It weighs them. It examines how the individual elements contribute to the whole.
I combine the two roles because editing, for me, is more than proofreader’s marks. I use those things if and when they’re helpful, but I tend to focus on the big picture and the language itself. It isn’t enough to slice and dice. Red ink without an explanation doesn’t do anything but quell the desire to write or destroy a person’s confidence.
My version of editing is meant to restore confidence, although it is brutal in its own way. It’s a mistake to think that the Write Right way of editing means glossing over the truth. My role is to be a second set of eyes and to provide an external perspective. That perspective might say a work isn’t ready. It might pinpoint where the writing becomes forced or where the text needs additional support. It does so because it sees the things to which the writer has become blind, including what the work could be. I know this blindness because, as a writer, I’m often a victim of it myself. I can be too close to a text or a drawing. I can become immune to the trouble spots. I can get lost in my own context. I need someone to examine my work and say where it could improve. I need to know what someone else sees when he or she looks at it. What themes exist? What is the motion of the text? Where does the writing need work?
It’s those questions that concern me when I edit, not merely ones of correct spelling and grammar. I look at the idea itself. I wonder how to best help the writer to discover the answers he or she needs. I only can do so much as a copy editor. Acting as one might make the copy sparkle, but it doesn’t help the writer to grow and that – that – is my overriding concern.
Photo: Jenny Kaczorowski (CC BY NC SA 2.0)