-or- How Editors Make Every Better and Where Can I Find One?
There’s a lot of mystery wrapped around the role of editor. Most of us have a vague idea that it’s some sort of big deal. After all jobs that end in “tor” usually are. But beyond that, the title means a lot of different things to different people. But editors can shape a written piece almost as much as authors. I’m sure some of you have noticed when your favourite writers changed editors and how it affected their works (cough Martin cough).
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the subject either. However, just like DJs and music producers slowly started to get a share of the spotlight, I think it’s time we acknowledge the fine work editors do.
If I am to believe anime and manga (most manga having an editor or two. Just saying it may not be the most impartial source is all), editors are long suffering, eternally working angels. Half of their job seems to be wrangling selfish eccentric authors, keeping out of trouble at their own expense, taking care of all their personal needs like a parent, then praising non-stop to protect their little egos. We see these selfless souls go through heck with no recognition at all, simply for the joy of seeing their clients succeed. We rarely see them edit anything.
I have a sneaky suspicion some of that may go down a smidge differently in real life. First, I’m not certain how much of the editor’s job consists of being a personal assistant. I’m inclined to say 0 but I’m sure it does happen from time to time. I mean none of my job is baking but I have brought cookies to work on occasion. I also doubt there’s that much babysitting going on. Unless you’re a huge author already, your publisher is way more likely to drop you if you can’t get your act together, than to pay an editor to hold your hand.
In practice, a lot of people think of editors as a combination of proof readers and fact checkers with a sprinkling of media consultant for good measure. And in some instances that may be a fairly accurate description. However, all of these jobs exist in their own right, and just because you already have someone correcting all your typos, doesn’t mean you can’t use an editor.
Editors are a second brain, a fresh pair of eyes. After spending any amount of time writing something, you will inevitably lose your ability to appreciate it objectively. Even on basic levels. For instance, it’s not that easy to gauge common knowledge. Something that’s completely obvious to you may not be to your audience. How many times have you said or heard “I thought everybody knew that…,”? Since we can’t go about explaining everything, it becomes incredibly useful to have someone else come in and simply make sure everything is clear.
A good editor will greatly help with flow of your writing as well. They aren’t reading the price as it’s being created, or rereading it for the 15th time on autopilot. As such, they are usually much better at making sure everything is structured in the best possible way and points follow in a logical manner. Sometimes, just moving a paragraph around can make a world of difference. In fact, even image placement
in a post or article can have an impact.
Moreover, a great editor can considerably enrich your writing. After all, this is an entire second brain with a separate wealth of knowledge and a unique perspective to draw on. They can suggest angles you may not have considered or add some interesting information on the subject you were not aware of.
However, editing is very hard. Rather, like most things, it’s hard to do well. Let me use myself as an example. My writing gets edited at work. All of it. For the most part I write very dry legal/technical text which are painful to read. I mean that. Most patents will give anyone that’s ever had so much as a passing interest in the literary arts, nausea. Sometimes I think they’re written that way just to be impossible to understand and make patent layers sound smart.
But I also write to correspondents and clients. Depending on nationality and the nature of our relationship, these communications vary greatly in formality and warmth. They need to stay professional of course but you have to be careful not to alienate anyone or make your work sound mass produced. There’s also a matter of corporate entity. The firm itself has a specific tone it wants to convey through all correspondence. However, these should remain personalized and accessible.
These writings are also edited and here is where it gets tricky. I will occasionally use slang or colloquialisms with people I have known for a long time or with people who are uncomfortable with overly stuffy language. I will write in short, trite sounding sentences when sending instructions to certain countries because I know they will be easier to translate in the local language.
I will write with elaborate and flowery language when dealing with younger examiners, while being careful to drop the pretence and be as clear and concise as possible with more experienced ones. There are a ton of variables that will change the tone, structure and vocabulary I decide on.
As a result, I often find myself “uncorrecting” work… I forgot to mention, we also make up words a lot. These are brand new innovations after all, sometimes the names don’t exist yet… So a well meaning editor or underwriter will have gone over a letter, improved it considerably, expanded the vocabulary, corrected sentence structure deleted repetitions, and in the process completely destroyed the tone I had carefully created. I tell this guy to sign the forms in three seperate paragraphs because I know he’ll just read one at random then delete the email. So I put all the important stuff in every paragraph through all the info that legally has to be there but it’s ok if he doesn’t read….
You may think that none of this applies to a blog. You’re writing for the same readers everyday after all. But there are still subtleties to consider. Your voice is unique and personal, this can get lost if you’re not careful. After all, if we all wrote with perfect non regional grammar, in the clearest and most concise way, our posts would start to look very similar.
Then there’s a question of style. A while ago, I was seeing people type out stuttering for some reason. My own writing gets erratic and the concept of ending sentences gets thrown out the window when I get excited about something. I’m simulating breathlessly getting caught up in the subject with my poor sentence structure. Yup, totally on purpose. It’s not like I’ve always been prone to running sentences or sumeffin.
How is a poor editor supposed to seperate stylistic and tonal choice from plain old errors? I dunno. I think they’re wizards maybe. Certainly it helps if the editor and writer know each other well. But beyond that, it’s always going to be a give and take. A compromise and union of both voices. Sweet, wouldn’t you say.
Let’s then all take a second to appreciate how difficult and important an editor’s job is. And if you happen to know one, introduce me will ya?