Are Editors Just Spellcheckers? Tips for Working with Editors

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The editor: it's a job widely misunderstood and misrepresented in the media.

When I was a young freelance writer, I had the notion that editors were one of two things -- glorified spellcheckers, or people who just wanted to rewrite everything the way they wanted it.

Although I can trace the latter of those two notions back to a really cruel Writing Center volunteer at my high school, I have to dig a little deeper to figure out the cause of the former assumption.

It could be that, like many people who write at least a little bit every day, I'm a bit of an elitist when it comes to words. I believed the people who needed editors were those who had trouble with spelling, or weren't native to the language they were writing in, or who couldn't quite remember the difference between "effect" and "affect."

But me? I didn't need an editor to do much more than check for typos. I thought.

Well, I'm happy to admit I was wrong. From Donya and Valerie at Mediabistro who took my work from acceptable to pretty darn good, to Tatiana, a developmental editor who may be the only reason I saw my first book, The New Freelance, through to publication, I am a believer in the power of the editor to transform your writing from good to awesome.

Top Reasons Why You Need an Editor for Your Writing

There are three categories of editors: developmental editors, line editors, and proofreaders. In my years of writing I've had the privilege to learn from editors in each of these categories.

Here are my five key reasons editors can help you in ways you can't help yourself.
 

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Editors are not you. Studies have proven that a diverse workplace leads to greater idea generation and more creativity.

t's no different when you get an editor in on your project. That person provides a unique perspective that will bring a remarkable spectrum of color to your work.

Editors see deeper. Remember Russell Crowe's portrayal of math genius John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, and how he sees formulas and geometry overlaid in the world around him? That's a bit like how editors see a manuscript. They're seeing beneath, and above, the words themselves: they're seeing how each word relates to the next, how each sentence relates to the whole, and how the whole relates to the greater purpose.

This isn't something just anyone can do; it is a unique skill that takes years of practice to master.

Editors are specialists. If you need to guarantee consistency in a document or particular style guide adherence, editors have an extremely keen eye for what might seem like stress-inducing minutia to you. You can find editors who specialize in just about everything, from novel development to business plan writing.

Editors make you a better writer (and editor). Though this point mostly applies to developmental editors who provide writers with suggestions for improving an overall body of work, I have learned a plethora about my own follies as a writer by having them reflected back at me from a good editor.

I no longer overuse adjectives or adverbs. I try to avoid excessive lists of three (ugh, it's so hard!). I'm also trying to cut down on my em dashes, ellipses, and use of profanity, at the recommendation of some really fantastic editors I have known.

Editors are worldly. When you spend all day reading, critiquing, rewriting, or proofreading the written word, you develop a broader sense of the world and the various ideas within it.

Due to this, the best editors are polymaths, uniquely positioned to save you from political incorrectness, or publishing something that might appear insensitive, confusing, or downright crazy (I know, list of three. I'll see if Alex lets me keep it when I hand this over to him for editing [She can keep it. This time]).

The Final Reason Why We Need Editors in 2018

We have seen the media landscape transform from an elite world of print publications and books, to an open, digital world in which anyone can publish anything.

I absolutely love that we've moved into a time in which this is possible, allowing individuals with special interests to find their "tribes," where isolated individuals can feel camaraderie in front of screens.

However.

With this openness comes a lot of drivel. There also comes hastily-written promo material with no heart, and well-written nonsense that holds no basis in reality.

It can be very difficult for the common person to distinguish truth from the lies that look like truth.

Editors care about the truth. Whether it's an artist's truth in the composition of his memoir, or a journalist's truth in her first long-form article, editors help deliver something strong and authentic to readers.

The result is something beautiful, collaborative. Something that, hopefully, stands the test of time -- and at the very least, connects with audiences in a way that a raw draft touched by only one pair of eyes simply cannot.