Do I Need an Editor to Wrangle My Writing?


Self-Editing vs. Hiring an Editor

You’re a writer, right?

Your job is to get creative on the page. So, how in Hiawassee do you know when it’s time to employ an editor?

Figuring out the editing process leaves most of us scratching our heads. But you need to understand it before you work with an editor. In high school, we were taught to write dry research papers. College writing programs get super philosophical about literature and tell you to read, read, read. So, how in the hell are you supposed to know the best route for revising your creative writing?

Editing is NOT the big, bad monster of writing. It’s just an extension of the process.

Let’s change our perception first. Editing gets a bad rap. If you were an artist would you paint a picture, then stop halfway through, take off your creative hat and put on some logical, problem-solving fedora to finish the picture?

Not on your life! (Although I like the idea of a problem-solving fedora)

Bob Ross has never once turned happy cloud painting into logically formulated, well-structured cloud painting. Does that mean he doesn’t revise his work? Now, you know and I know he fixes his happy little mistakes all the damn time. He’s dead and he’s still fixing them on PBS.

So, if writing is your art, treat it like an art form. That doesn’t mean you don’t take it seriously. That means you use your creative juices throughout the process. A process that doesn’t suddenly go stiff in the middle of creation. Your skill of getting fascinating ideas onto the page should also serve you even as you start structuring and stylizing a more formal narrative.

Editing is NOT the big, bad monster of writing. It’s just an extension of the process.

Take a look at each of the phases of the writing process:

Creative Writing/The Brain Dump.

You write everything about the subject. You have ideas flowing out your pores. You feel vibrant and alive with possibilities. This is an important part of the process, but plenty writers think this is their only job. That after this phase, it’s up to someone else to finish the process. This would be like a pasta chef preparing the best dough in the restaurant biz, then walking away, expecting someone else to create raviolis and plate them perfectly. Do you want to give over that much creative control? I wouldn’t.

Developmental/Macro/Big Picture Edits

This is where the fun and big decisions begin. Yes, it’s harder. You will have to think. Make choices. Throw out some writing. Consider your audience. Who’s your ideal reader? How can you best communicate with that person? What’s your story’s big message? Sure, you’ve got a plot, but what’s the universal theme— the relatable takeaway that’ll leave your audience with memories and wanting more?

Micro/Line Edits

Your decisions aren’t over, yet. Just because you have a nice structure doesn’t mean each of your sentences and paragraphs flow well. Is your verb tense consistent? Does the dialogue sound authentic and move the story forward? Can you trim some prepositional phrases so you pick up the pace? You’ve got a solid story structure, but we want your sentences to flow like fine wine. Poetry.


Now, and only now, should you worry about typos, misspellings, and grammatical issues. Why? These technical issues don’t show up because you’re a shit writer, they show up because you spent so much time doing the real work of moving around big sections of your writing. You cut, you pasted, you sliced, you diced. Of course, you overlooked that extra “to” in the fourth sentence of the eighteenth paragraph of chapter fourteen. And sometimes homophones happen. Deal.

Can you see how going from a creative dump straight to hiring a proofreader cuts out a huge portion of your creative responsibility?


Now, what was the original question?

Oh, yes, do you need an editor?

Self-editing gives you the power to understand good storytelling so when you do work with an editor, you’ll know how to advocate for your words.

If you are struggling to understand how to take your writing from rough draft to polished manuscript—turning the most delicious dough into pasta—then yes, you should consult with a developmental editor or writing coach. As one of those unicorns who works by teaching writers to understand all the phases of the writing process, you’d think I’d be eager to sign you up and take your money, right?

STOP RIGHT THERE. (I’m yelling again, huh?)

I will urge you, please invest time in learning the phases of the editing process first:

·      Learn why it’s important to choose the right POV for your story

·      Seek out a universal theme early in your writing so you anchor your message

·      Decide who you’re really writing for

Self-editing gives you the power to understand good storytelling so when you do work with an editor, you’ll know how to advocate for your words. Say you don’t agree with your fancy new editor at Random House or Penguin, but you’ve invested time into self-editing. You’ll feel confident to state why you don’t want to change something and you’ll have the reasons to back it up.

Like Steinbeck, you’ll feel empowered to say, “no I’m not changing my controversial ending because breastfeeding offends people. I’m keeping it because it speaks to the human condition. My ending declares that when all is lost we can still depend on each other; that we can find hope.”

 A B&W GIF from the trailer of the 20th Century Fox film  The Grapes of Wrath,  1940 .  Work of public domain. The GIF shows a series of newspapers headlines describing how Steinbeck’s work has broken records. | The Naked Page

If that ain’t the most creative part of your writing journey, then I don’t know why you like words.

P.S. And if my literary reference is lost on you, you better go get yourself a copy of the Grapes of Wrath tout suite…send me a review.