Recently I came across a post on social media. To paraphrase, the writer said she was soon to finish a work-in-progress for publication, but she was struggling with editing.
“It’s so funny!” she wrote. “I can edit someone else’s work and catch every mistake, but when it comes to my own writing I end up making the same errors I catch in the work of others.”
Can you relate?
A writer should never be the final editor of her own work. Why? Here are 4 reasons:
1. We all have blind spots when it comes to our own writing.
Your sentences might sing. Your characters might glow. But if you do not seek an outside eye to give your work a once-over before you kick it out of the nest, you are doing yourself and your writing a disservice.
When I was working on my book, Faith to Follow: The Journey of Becoming a Pastor’s Wife, I shared draft chapters with my mother-in-law. I had written and rewritten and spit-shined each chapter before I sent it to her, but I fully expected she would find errors here and there that I missed.
I was right.
One of the most glaring errors she caught was a reference I made to Idaho, east of my home state of Wyoming.
You read that right. East.
One simple correction from an outside reader – made all the difference. She crossed out “east” and replaced it with “west.”
I was mortified that I had made such a glaring mistake – and that I hadn’t caught it on my own! But more than that, I was so grateful that she caught my mistake before the book was published. In all of the scrutiny I applied to my own work, in the multiple times I had gone over my book draft with a fine-toothed comb, my mention of Idaho being east of Wyoming never jumped out at me.
It was a blind spot.
If you believe your writing is the best it can be yet no one else has read it but you, think again. I would challenge you every time: there is always something in your writing that can be improved, and you as the writer will not always see it.
2. You overlook more typos than you think.
No writer is perfect because every writer is human. Even the most skilled and accomplished writers make mistakes. Errors are inevitable, from innocent typos to bigger errors that the writer’s tired eyes fail to catch. You can read a piece of writing a hundred times and something will still sneak by you (Idaho being east of Wyoming: case-in-point, ahem).
A good editor will catch those errors right away. That’s the advantage of fresh perspective. Embrace it, because two sets of eyes are always better than one.
You might roll your eyes at discussions on the importance of the comma or wonder why double-checking spelling and punctuation is such a big deal.
Lynn Truss wrote a whole book on this, and it’s excellent (not to mention wildly entertaining). Consider the significance of the comma in the very title. On the cover, a panda bear is diligently erasing the comma between “Eats” and “Shoots.” The absence of the comma turns the word “shoots” from a verb into a noun. That’s pretty powerful stuff.
Perhaps you’ve heard it before: Commas save lives.
3. Feedback is a critical part of the writing process.
As writers, we need feedback for our work. I have always been a firm believer that feedback has two parts: what’s working and what’s not working.
The writer Allison K. Williams says, “Purely nurturing feedback is unhelpful. Straight criticism is discouraging. An editor must identify what’s wrong, clarify why it must be fixed, and excite the author to do the work.”
Those are huge tasks! Authors can’t always see what’s wrong with their work because they are working through their story, synthesizing ideas, and building up a narrative.
That’s where a good editor comes in. A good editor won’t simply give you praises and accolades. She also won’t strictly dump harsh and unsupportive feedback on you. A good editor is focused on making your work the best it can be. Her feedback should leave you feeling inspired and energized to keep working toward a final draft because with her help you see even more potential in your work. You believe in your work more because of the feedback your editor provided. And, you feel more confident to share it with the world.
Sharon Melton Lippencott said, “Write like nobody will ever read it. Edit like the whole world will.”
4. Seeking help demonstrates humility and desire for growth.
I love it when clients come to me acknowledging that there are problems in their story or essay that they can’t see. To me, acknowledging that you as the writer don’t have all the answers shows a great level of humility and a desire to grow as a writer. Reaching outside yourself and your own creative process – being brave enough to “let go” – is one of the greatest acts of love you can give to your work.
Strong writers are always open to learning more about their craft. Growing as a writer means you’re eager for the input and feedback that will help you through the rewriting process. It doesn’t mean you have to accept or implement every shred of feedback you receive. But it does mean you will begin to look at your work from other angles and learn to ask questions that will help shape it – and your distinct voice as a writer.
A good editor is someone you can learn from. She knows how to balance your voice
and your vision with the needs of your audience. Think of every cut,
suggestion, or tweak as a moment to consider how others might respond to your
words, and how what you see as the writer might be different than what a reader
There are many ways to find new eyes for your work-in-progress. Consider joining a
writing group or seeking an accountability partner who will offer valuable
feedback. These opportunities and more are available for free in my online
writing network, The Writers Salon. To learn more about group coaching,
one-on-one coaching or editing, check out my Editing Services page or
contact me for a free 30-minute consult.
You can also check out this post at nybookeditors.com, on 12 reasons why you need
a professional editor.
Shannon Hale wrote: “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply
shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”
Castles aren’t built by just one person. Seek outside hands and expert eyes, and your castle will eventually be a place where a whole community of readers wants to be.
Want more ideas and opportunities for how to improve your writing, set a foundational writing practice, receive feedback on your work and more? Subscribe to my newsletter!
Kate Meadows Writing & Editing
Build your story * Bring your idea to life * Reach more people