I am an editor, but you’ll probably still notice plenty of typos and grammatical errors in my writing. It’s understood, in the world of publishing, that writers are universally terrible at editing their own work. When you know what you’re trying to say, very often you don’t notice the impediments to others in understanding what it is that you’re trying to say (if you know what I mean)… A fresh set of eyes is almost essential in producing a polished piece of writing.
Of course, there is also some conjecture about what a ‘good edit’ involves. Some writers are very happy with a drastic copy-edit of their work, where the editor cuts and pastes and shifts things around and then either creates transitional passages to improve the flow of the work (or requests that the author do the same). Other authors are far more territorial; even a word substitution to increase clarity for the reader is met with querulous resistance by the writer. And editors themselves might disagree about what might be required to balance the need to maintain the ‘voice’ of the author while increasing the readability of his or her work.
A university prof once told me that my writing contained ‘an over-abundance of semi-colons’. I recounted this once to a boyfriend and his mother, laughingly saying that I still believed that I used the punctuation correctly (if lavishly)… My boyfriend’s mother was an English teacher, and she sourly replied, “Well, if you’re using them abundantly then that suggests that you’re using them incorrectly.” She never did like me, that one.
Anyway, conventions be damned – I like a good semicolon (as you may have gathered).
But I digress (NB: a good, independent, editor most likely wouldn’t have allowed me that tangent in the first place!)… As a writer, I don’t need to concern myself too much with the editing end of things; particularly during the initial stage of crafting my story or article, my job is simply to create. In the drafting stage, everything goes, in the hopes that this will render an inspired (albeit messy) result. Then, as I work through my thoughts, sift through the words and phrases, and reassemble the paragraphs, I am able to hone these elements into something that more accurately conveys the tone and meaning I originally intended to express.
A good editor can take the most tangled, mangled, outpouring of prose and massage it into something that makes sense. Careful editing will render the roughest draft more coherent and cohesive; when the prose itself has been written with care, the result can be delightful.
I am a Christian, and my life – like my writing – contains plenty of mistakes. Sometimes I err even though I know better, but it’s my own life and thus I am blind to some of my faults. I could choose to be territorial with my mistakes – I could choose to ‘own them with no regrets’ as popular culture sometimes challenges us to do. But instead, I have given my work – my life – over to my Editor (who is the author and perfecter of Life itself); and he restores meaning and fluidity and harmony to the reading of it.
Without my Editor, my life would remain a rough draft; all the opportunities for enhanced meaning, harmonious expression and perfect prose would be lost. All my messy mistakes would remain unchanged, disrupting the flow of my story and marring the page of my life.
But my Editor comes in and makes a clean sweep of my work. He does not ‘track changes’; instead, He erases my mistakes without leaving a trace of them. He makes something new and fresh that is still wholly my own while also uniquely His. The word that wasn’t quite right; the phrase that didn’t fit properly; the impediments to meaning – all of these stumbling blocks are smoothed over.
I work hard in the telling of my story. I do my best to write something that is beautiful, inspiring, and honest. But my Editor is the one who brings true meaning to my work.
The irony of it all is that He uses this blood-red pen to excise my mistakes – and it renders my page a gleaming white.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
-1 John 1:9