Writing Matters

Writing is a vitalizing human activity. Studies have shown that writing, particularly creative writing, can reduce stress in a wide range of circumstances. These studies have explored, among other things, the effect of writing on chronic stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, care-givers, cancer survivors, and chronically and terminally ill individuals.

Having someone read your writing should be an overall affirming experience: Someone has read what you have said, considered it thoughtfully and responded honestly to your writing as writing. This, to me, is the essence of good editing. I would call this substantive editing (some refer to it as developmental); proofreading, in my vocabulary, is a response to form, not content.

If you are intending to publish, you may need multiple drafts edited. Harper Lee, author of the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird,” revised her manuscript for two years after its acceptance by her publisher. Publishing companies no longer invest that time in their authors; they want something that only needs a light buff. In the brave new world of ePublishing, there is a growing dissatisfaction with manuscripts that are full of errors. The scan-and-publish method of producing public domain eBooks has soured many readers; the 99 cent price tag isn’t worth the aggravation.

My editing is responsive to the level of the manuscript. A second draft review, for example, may have as many comments as a first draft. The analogy I use is that the process is like sanding wood. The rougher the draft, the coarser the sandpaper. By the end of  the process, I’m using a very fine sandpaper. Of course, you must know when to stop; otherwise you may ruin beautiful wood rather than bringing out the best in the grain.

Even traditional publishers have cut back on the number of proofreaders who review a manuscript before it goes to galleys. (No slavery involved; just the term for the draft that looks like the final product–a visual preview of the book.) Traditionally, at least three people would separately proofread a book prior to publication. Now it is not unusual for a book to only be proofed once, and you can tell by the number of errors you see even in books published by the Big Six.

If I work with you as an editor, I will recommend that when the last round of sandpaper is finished, you have another editor proofread your manuscript. Human brains are very good at filling in blanks; once I’ve become that familiar with your script, a fresh pair of eyes is essential.

Writing matters because reading matters. The movie “Shadowlands” attributes the following to C.S. Lewis: “We read to know we are not alone.” I would add “We write to know we are heard.”

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