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Monday, July 20, 2015

Editors Who Write

When I tell people I’m an editor and they know I also write, somehow they’re under the impression my own writing wouldn’t need editing.  I can tell you that is false.  Even an editor needs an editor.  A person can learn to self-edit quite well.  I’ve seen plenty of evidence supporting this in the manuscripts I’ve received, both as an editor for Musa Publishing and in my freelance capacity.  I’ve had manuscripts that were pretty much grammatically clean except for the odd misspelling or occasional homophone confusion.  Most of the work I had to do on those manuscripts concerned things like character development, suggesting rephrasing for flow or clarity, or perhaps dealing with continuity issues.  I’ve also seen manuscripts that suggest the author either doesn’t have the first clue about self-editing, or they don’t even attempt it.

Editors who are also writers need an editor just as much as any other writer.  Sure, they may be good at self-editing, but like any other writer, they’re also often too close to the story to see certain things.  For example, motivation.  What motivates this character to do or say the things they do, or react a certain way?  In my current manuscript I had an early scene where two characters were interacting with each other.  My beta made a comment along the lines of, “She’s got a chip on her shoulder about something, doesn’t she?”  That was a bit of a shock, because I hadn’t intended for her to come across that way.  When I looked back at her interaction with the other character, I saw what my beta meant.  I knew why my character was responding the way she was, but the readers wouldn’t.  They didn’t know her yet, not like I did, and it’s likely other readers would have perceived her the same way.  I wanted her to come across as feisty (she is a redhead, after all!), but it wasn’t working at that particular moment.  Needless to say, I corrected the issue.

What does this have to do with mistakes I see in submissions?  Everything.  My point is all writers make mistakes, even writers who happen to be editors.  Obviously, not every writer makes the same types of mistakes, and not every writer makes the same number of mistakes.  Tomorrow I’m going to start listing some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen in manuscripts.  And yes, I’ve made these mistakes myself, but I try to get rid of them during revisions.

Please note that while I have used examples from actual manuscripts and submissions, including my own work, the examples are kept as non-specific as possible to avoid embarrassing the author.  (There are no quoted passages!)  My goal is not to embarrass or ridicule anyone.  In the course of writing, we all make mistakes that make us cringe when we’re called out on them.  These mistakes do not in any way reflect on the story as a whole, or on the quality of the entire manuscript.  Writers learn from the mistakes and triumphs of other writers, which is one of the reasons we’re encouraged to read all we can.  The examples I share are merely intended to illustrate a point.


dolorah said...

I do a good job of self editing too; but it is good to get another perspective on character and plot development. I get myopic about my own writing, and see what if "should" read like, instead of what is.

mshatch said...

I couldn't do without my CPs.

Janie Junebug said...

I think I have more errors in my writing than I did before I started editing. I blame it on tired eyes and correcting other people's work. Or maybe I'm old. I have to proofread much more carefully.


Haddock said...

Would like to see those most common mistakes seen in manuscripts.

Liz A. said...

I point out missed words and missed punctuation to the writers in my writers group, and they find the same sorts of issues in my manuscript. Because it is easy to miss those things. I don't take offense at it--I'm grateful they caught it.

That's why anyone needs another set of eyes on their work.

Angela said...

LOL@Janie! There are times I feel that way, too. When I'm revising my own work, I'll catch something very basic and I think, "Now how on earth did I miss that? Why did I even write it? I know better."

Liz, I agree. It's always better to have another set of eyes.