Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Does an Editor Need an Editor?

Several months ago one of the editors in our group asked if and, if so, why an editor needs an editor for her creative writing. I’ve been mulling the question over and have a few ideas.

Yes, an editor does need outside help.

As an author, an editor is usually too close to her own story. She is living her story so intimately that she may not see either its strengths or its weaknesses clearly, like a mother with her child. When I write a poem I can generally edit its grammatical and stylistic elements almost immediately but am usually surprised at the various interpretations that my readers come up with. I have no intention of saying what many of them comment that they see in my brief creative works. The broader canvas escapes me because I’m so entranced by the smell of the honeysuckle I’m describing.

The phenomenon is compounded when I write a novel. Sometimes I get sidetracked from my central plot and need someone to rein me in. Or I get lost in the details that I find so interesting at the time and need an objective eye to point out that fact. I also may use a grammatical construction excessively, such as the helping verb had. Thank goodness for my partner and my beta reader, who tactfully steer me away from the obvious rocky shoals I’m in danger of wrecking on.

After all, as an author, I am writing from my creative, artistic side, and as an editor I am usually much more matter of fact, more objective. As a writer, I get stuck in my right brain, which isn’t a bad place to be. And even though I can access my left brain, I can’t do so as completely as I'm able to when I’m editing the work of someone else.

I wish I could edit my own writing more ably because it would be much less hassle, but thank goodness for the kind souls who help me. They’re invaluable.

Shelley Thrasher

Shelley has a PhD in English and specializes in editing novels written by women. She spends most of her time style-editing for Bold Strokes Books.

She also enjoys writing poetry and novels, and posts selections at www.myspace.com/editlit.

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  1. Good points, Shelly and I totally agree. I am so glad I had such good editors for my last two books. Even though I had been through them a jillion times, the editors still caught some errors. Fresh, objective eyes are invaluable.

  2. I have the same problem. I can easily spot mistakes in other writers' works, but it's very hard to find them in my own.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. Great post! I think that no matter how well a person understands writing and language, they will make mistakes. Allowing someone else to edit your work is like stepping back and admitting that you're not perfect. Some people have a hard time doing that, but we all need an extra set of eyes sometimes.

  4. Thanks so much for your affirmations, Maryann and Morgan. It's good to know I'm not the only editor who feels like this.

    Jenny, I appreciate your comments. Every time I edit a MS, I become more aware how complex language is. It's humanly impossible to notice every aspect of a piece of writing. I may latch on to the overuse of the passive voice, whereas another editor may concentrate on ineffective paragraphing. Someone famous said that the more we know, the more we realize how much we don't know. Well, I'm there.

  5. Yesss, we surely do, especially on our own work. We look at our own writing as we're drafting that there comes a point when we can't "see" it anymore.


  6. Right, Lisa. It's amazing what silly little errors we can overlook.

  7. Great post! I am an editor by trade and I find it incredibly difficult to edit my own work. I always am amazed at the mistakes and differences of interpretation. Thank goodness for those kind souls, indeed.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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