Recently, a writer I was working with asked rather despairingly whether she would ever be at the point when she would no longer need an editor. It’s a common sentiment among writers — we want to produce perfect first drafts, or at least perfect second or third drafts after we’ve self-edited. And let me say before I go any further that I think self-editing and revision are crucial aspects of the writing process.
But so is editing and revision by someone other than the writer. Editors earn their stripes through clarifying facts, tightening language, correcting errors, and more. Here are 5 reasons you should have your writing edited before you submit it or publish it (especially if you self-publish).
Editors see problems the writer can’t.
You know what you mean when you are writing, even if it’s not what you have written. No matter how many times you go back over what you’ve written, you read the meaning into it. Editors come to the manuscript fresh without those same presuppositions. If the writing isn’t clear, an editor can rearrange paragraphs, suggest a new ending, or ask for clarification where needed.
Editors find gaps the writer missed.
If you are telling a story or presenting an argument, editors can help you know where the plot line or thesis breaks down. Are you making too many illogical leaps? An editor can help you recognize that. Did you forget to introduce a character who suddenly appears? An editor can point that out.
Editors correct mistakes the writer makes.
Typos, spelling errors, wrong use of a word, missing commas: editors eat this stuff for breakfast. Even if you are “good at grammar” yourself, it never hurts to have someone helping you with the details.
Editors help a writer’s good idea become great.
Sometimes, your idea is good enough, but an editor can push you toward a better idea, or even a great idea. With a few questions, an editor can help you develop new conclusions or search for better supporting documentation or a discover a whole new direction for a character who was lurking in the background.
Editors serve as your first reader.
Even if you don’t love your editor’s suggestions, pay attention to those places where she is pushing for change. Not only is she responding to technical issues, the editor is responding in the same ways your readers might. If something doesn’t work for your editor, it probably will cause a reader to pause as well.
While I’m the first person to remind writers that we all need editors, I recently found myself apologizing to an editor for the work required of her when she was reviewing an essay I had written. “You are a champ for working through this with me. I hope it’s not a burden. I hope it doesn’t reflect poorly on my writing,” I wrote to her in an email after my second or third round of rewrites.
Her response was humble and instructive. She said simply that it is a privilege to help writers reach readers, that even during the editing process, it’s still the writer’s work, even when an editor is helping her find it’s best version. I felt encouraged.
In a recent essay for Lit Hub, Jill Bialosky, executive editor and vice president at W.W. Norton said it a different way, “People often ask me if I need editing. They assume that because I am an editor I can edit myself. I crave a second reader, a close careful eye. I love to be edited in the way in which I edit and I have been lucky to find sensitive and intelligent editors for my own work. All writers need editors.”
In case it would be helpful to demonstrate the value of good editing, I wanted to share the first draft of my essay I mentioned above, along with the final draft that was published at Curator magazine recently for your comparison.