Over the past few weeks, we have taken a close look at the full writing process. From prewriting (my personal favorite), to a working draft and finally a polished draft, it was all about creation and enjoyment. Before you can move onto the final draft and a publishable manuscript, it is time to discuss the most painful and least enjoyable step in the process. That’s right, editing and proofreading.
Editing? Proofreading? What is the Difference?
Up until this point, we have been using the forest and tree analogy to describe the writing process. We have to take a look at another example to better understand how the editing process actually works. One of the best examples would be a surgical team.
If your manuscript were a body, an editor would be the doctor that cuts you open and deals with the internal issues of the story. While they are in there, they look for ways to improve the flow, progression and in many cases, the wording and vocabulary that is used. An editor goes into each of these issues, remove parts that make no sense and improve the overall flow or the story line. They also add things that can aid in progression or to make things more clear.
Once the internal structure is repaired, it is time to close the surgical wound and make the outer most layer look as flawless as possible. That is the job of the proofreader. A proofreader goes through the entire manuscript with a fine-toothed comb and searches for and corrects all grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors.
Why Editing and Proofreading is Needed
After you have spent months and in many cases years to create your manuscript, you know it from top to bottom. With the intimate knowledge of the story, why would you need some outsider to pick your story apart and tell you everything that you have done wrong? Additionally, you have used a program such as Microsoft Word and know that the spelling and grammar is all correct, why should you trust a human over a computer program? For the most part, the same reasons that you use to argue against needing and editor and proofreader are the same reasons that you need one.
When an author writes a manuscript, the first step is to have the story in their mind. They see the entire thing and know everything about it. As they write, they transcribe everything they see into written form. So, when they review the written product, they are able to fill in any gaps that may exist. It is the equivalent of growing nose-blind to the kitty litter box in a house. An editor, someone that is not intimate with your mental image, is able to read through and find the gaps that could confuse a reader and fill them. They are also able to cut through unnecessary and excessive wording that may convolute a point and make it easier to understand. No author likes to have something they worked so hard on picked to shreds, but it is a necessity to ensure that your message is clearly translated to your reader.
If you use a program such as Microsoft Word to type your manuscript, it has a built in spelling and grammar tool. The issue is, it is a computer program and cannot understand context and purpose. I cannot tell you how many times I have written something and had no indication of errors on the document then self proofed the piece and find error after error. It took a human eye and mind to find the mistakes. As the writer, when you read your manuscript and you know what is coming next and often your mind is already ahead of what you are reading. With your mind not concentrated on exactly what you are reading, it is all too easy to skip mistakes. A professional proofreader however, is trained to catch every mistake.
When it comes to the editing step, it is important to remember an editor is not slamming your work, but trying to make it better. So, when you open the edited file and want to cry over the tracking page notes, you have to find the intestinal fortitude get over it. Accept that your editor is helping you to produce a better product. In future articles, we will explore some ways of finding and hiring an editor and proofreader for your work. In the meantime, keep your pens, pencils or computer keys going and write your hearts out.