Too Many Editors?
Writers’ eyelids often droop in the final stages of editing work for publication. Even professional editors combing through manuscripts don’t always produce faultless results. A long-time journalist once told me that even after six passes through proofreaders, no error-free texts had ever been put out by the state of California print shop. Clearly, perfection in editing can be an elusive goal always receding on the horizon.
Most experts agree that writing is produced in a process of stages such as prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing. It’s not unusual for writers to love the prewriting phase of the process-daydreaming, sketching, mapping, freewriting, etc. And writing a first draft can be an exciting pleasure, as millions have discovered in the popular National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo), held online in November each year since 1999. But fresh raw text is often a long way from being ready to delight readers. As E. B. White put it, “The best writing is rewriting.”
Revision differs from Editing mostly in that the former is looking for “global” aspects such as overall story arc, organization of the piece as a whole, consistency among facts noted, and so on. Later, or at the same time, writers and editors hunt for and repair smaller “local” text elements that can disturb and distract readers. Improving and polishing early-draft text in both ways is essential in order to produce a quality reading experience for the public.
As a writing instructor at a California Community College, I’ve studied and taught all phases of the writing process. Methods of eagle-eyed editing include reading the work aloud (and listening!), reading the work backwards one line at a time, and asking other people to read it. But often writers just cannot spot their own mistakes; however, it’s a common part of human nature to find joy in identifying others’ errors. (An image of the teacher with red pen in hand may pop to mind.)
A faculty colleague of mine once proclaimed that we are all teaching what we most need to learn, which I’ve found to be so true. As an author, I’ve worked hard to sharpen my own editing eyes. Yet, invariably, despite many proofreading passes by outside editors and myself, I find mistakes pop up-some jarring and others nearly unnoticed. A few days ago, I discovered a blunder in one of my books, at the revision/editing level-a mistake I wonder if sharp-eyed readers will spot. Discovering this fault underscores once more the point that although the proverbial “too many cooks” may spoil the broth, “too many editors” might be welcome at the writing table.