Adrianna and I thought we might like to address something that almost all writers know something about, but a topic of which few emerging writers have a competent knowledge. In fact, two distinctly different job titles that I perform work under on a daily basis, my primary source of income, are often confused and frequently interchanged by novice writers. Both Adrianna and I offer ourselves out as both “proofreaders” and as “editors.” They are not the same job, not by a long shot. I will let my PITA explain things as she sees it and applies it to the jobs she does, but for myself, here is an easy summary.
When I proofread, I am looking for punctuation, dropped words, grammatical errors such as singular/plural usage, gender errors, homonyms, misspellings, etc. The job of a proofreader is to NOT change or improve the language, just proof any errors. I proofread a lot of research reports, medical dissertations, legal filings, and trial transcripts. None of which do I have the privilege of altering outside of the basics. The most I can do is highlight an area and suggest the author might consider a partial re-write. This is NOT editing.
Editing, although it does in part consider all of the tasks of a proofreader, is reading for a much more complex series of correctable issues. I will tell you here, that when someone sends me a project to edit, and it has not been proofread, I will send it back; I cannot be distracted by a thousand petty errors when looking at the bigger picture. An editor is there to improve the author’s writing. I am looking for plot structure, credibility, plausibility, continuity and readability. I am studying word usage and coloration (where modifiers imply the same emotion), character development, scene placement, idiom, and depending on the genre, proper foreshadowing, literary layering, allusion opportunity, the subtle threads that weave a great story/novella/novel. I don’t rewrite anything, but there will be tons of red ink throughout the pages with suggestive and constructive critiques.
An edit is not a single use read through, it is a back and forth relationship between a trusted advisor and a writer looking to improve their work. It is not for the ego of, “None of you know what you’re talking about, my story is perfect, just the way I wanted it.” I won’t take work from people like that, the money I make is not worth the headache. You don’t hire an editor to praise your work, an editor is there for one purpose: to find every flaw, every fault, everything you did wrong and show it to you so that you can fix it. An editor does not necessarily have to be a better writer than the writer that is being improved. A writer has conceived, gestated and given birth to their little progeny. The editor is removed from all of the parental love and like a good pediatrician, isn’t captivated by the cuteness of the infant, but whether there is anything wrong.
Those who know me, know that I am always saying no piece of writing is ever “done.” There comes a point when it is “ready,” but never is it done. Walt Whitman first published Leaves of Grass in 1855; he was still rewriting and editing it until his death in 1892. It was ready for publication SEVEN times (including the Death Bed Edition that was published two months after his passing). That being said, when you are through with an editor, your work will be ready for publication.
Okay, back to the point of the post. Those of you who know me know that I’ve not been writing as long as some of you, but nothing gives more experience as an editor, proofreader and writer than rejections. I’ve had editor after editor look at my work. Out of my eagerness to learn more and more, I contacted people to help me find out what my writing was lacking. How can I grow? Along the way I began to learn what to look for in a story. After many hours of reading and researching, I remembered what I was taught by my teachers about Literary Writing and the points of a good editor. Along that journey, I’ve picked up some great concepts and rules to follow. If I hadn’t sought out other editors during my journey to learning how to become a better writer, I wouldn’t be where I am today. For those of you who think that this sounds easy, it’s not. I’ve shed frustrating tears in my journey to where I am today.
What do I look for when I edit? Well, whether you’re a client of mine or a friend whose work I’ve had the pleasure of editing, then you know that I do not joke around when I edit. David and I even edit one another’s work (Yes, every editor needs an editor), and cringe when we know the other is about to open a file of corrections and/or suggestions. It’s not always easy when it’s someone you know, but it has to be done. If you care about the life of a story, no matter who wrote it, then honesty needs to play the major role here.
Once I open the book, I look at the first five paragraphs. They alone will tell me what I need to know about the author. I search for passive and active voice; excessive use of adverbs; are they not showing and only telling; sentence structure; repetition; do the sentences in the paragraph complement one another; punctuation; wordy sentences; lack of immediacy (in genres that call for this); and a few other small things. When I edit someone’s work and they are willing to learn how to write, I will give them a few tips to go by, and then work on it one step at a time. For some writers, too many corrections and lessons at once can be overwhelming.
Okay, David, I think I’ve said enough. I could go on and on and on, but I don’t want their eyes to bleed. Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow. 😛
(Ironically, this post is still up for editing LOL–too be continued)