Everyone Needs a Copyeditor

Everyone needs a copyeditor.

No one understands this better than copyeditors–not because we are particularly sensitive to other people’s errors, but because we are so sensitive to our own.

The minute you call yourself a copyeditor, two things happen: (1) everyone who emails you trembles in fear lest you find a mistake and think the sender is stupid; and (2) you tremble in fear every time you email someone lest the recipient find a mistake and think you are incompetent and hypocritical.

Everyone needs a copyeditor–even copyeditors.

It is nearly impossible to edit our own writing. We know what we meant to say, so, in reading back over our work, we gloss over errors that someone else might spot right away. We read words into a sentence that we might have omitted to type. We read “to” as “too” without noticing that we mixed up two words we learned to distinguish in first or second grade. Although I have read over this post multiple times before publishing it, it would not surprise me if you find a typo or two!

What I want you, dear reader, to know, is that my finding a mistake in your manuscript (or email) is not a judgment on you. It is not even necessarily a judgment on your manuscript. Those who do have a harder time than others with “getting the grammar right” are not necessarily inferior writers, and they are certainly not inferior humans. I once edited a brilliant novel that had nary an error-free sentence. The story was beautiful and captivating, but it needed a lot of work to make it conform to standard written English. I truly believed in that novel (which, to my knowledge, has never been published) and in the author’s abilities, and I thought highly of the author himself. But he–like everyone else–needed a copyeditor.

I am painfully aware of my own errors and my need to be edited. In fact, that’s why I do most of my writing these days for other people’s blogs and websites. I know that I need at least one extra pair of eyes on my writing, not only to clean up the mechanics, but also to make sure I’m making sense and producing the best work I can. I can definitely tell the difference in the quality of writing I’ve done on my own blogs over the years and that which I’ve done for others. I’m coming to truly appreciate the feedback of other editors; it gives me a chance to improve the piece in question–and also to grow as a writer, as an editor, and even as a person.

Yes, editing is about judgment–the editor makes constant judgments as to whether a word, phrase, punctuation mark, or whatnot ought to be changed or left as written. But those judgments aren’t about the author. Our value is not found in whether we can use a semicolon correctly or make our subjects and verbs agree. Our value is found in the fact that we are people created and redeemed by God.

Everyone needs a copyeditor, and whether you choose to use my services or find someone else, I hope you’ll take the opportunity for growth that professional feedback will afford. If you get the right person, you won’t regret it, and you may get one of the most valuable lessons on writing, and potentially much more, that you have ever received.

What Shoes and Writing Have in Common

“A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice,” wrote C. S. Lewis. He was making the analogy to the liturgy in a church service, but the point is equally applicable to writing. (In fact, Lewis makes this comparison, too; he goes on to say, “Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling.”) Another comparison might be a window: you don’t want people looking at the piece of glass, noticing fingerprints and the dusty residue of raindrops. A good piece of writing doesn’t call attention to itself, but to the ideas it communicates.

My goal as a copyeditor is to help you achieve writing that your readers won’t notice. That doesn’t mean they won’t be able to appreciate your unique voice, or some bit of symbolism you’ve embedded in your story, or a particularly apt turn of phrase. Rather, they will appreciate these elements more because the smudges and stains won’t be in the way.

Of course, some of those smudges and stains are mechanical errors; other times, they are words and phrases you’re rather fond of that unfortunately call too much attention to themselves. With a little discipline and a sincere effort to be objective, you can eliminate many errors and unhelpful words on your own. In fact, I encourage all writers to clean up their work as best they can on their own. You don’t want to pay someone else to do what you could have done yourself, and performing this exercise will help you become an even better writer. But it is hard to edit one’s own work (and no one is more keenly aware of this fact than copyeditors!). That’s why I’m here. I want to help you produce a piece of writing that your readers don’t notice. They won’t be thinking, “Particularly” must be his favorite word; he’s used it three times already on this page! or That’s a convoluted sentence; I’m not sure which nouns went with which verbs. Let me go over that again. Instead, they’ll be too immersed in the ideas you’re communicating to think about individual words and parts of speech.

That’s my goal, anyway, and if it’s yours as well, I’d like to help you get there.