Updated: Sep 3, 2020
While writing a social media post or a blog can be informal and won’t necessarily require an editor, the expectations differ when you move into academic writing or works intended for publication. Writing that is going to be evaluated (like for a contest or a school assignment) and writing that must be purchased (like a published work or anything that your readers must pay to access) must be polished and professional. If you are writing any of the latter and you want your writing to be the best it can be – so that it can make the best impression possible – you probably need an editor. Even if you are the kind of writer who pours your heart onto the page in the first draft and resists changing any of it because you don’t want to lose the authenticity of your initial creative flow, you may want to consider the following points before sending off your next piece to your agent, publisher, teacher, or readers.
Every writer* needs a good editor, and here’s why:
1. Individual Perspective
As humans, we live within our own individual consciousnesses. Within our own minds. Within our own perspectives. There is no way to live in this world without experiencing the limitations of human perspective. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the good side, our individual perspectives are what give each of us a unique viewpoint, individual flavor, and a distinctive voice. These perspectives enable us to share ideas and grow from one another. If we all saw the world in exactly the same way, the world would be a pretty boring place. However, as a writer there is a downside to this. Individual perspectives mean that even though something makes perfect sense to you, that doesn’t necessarily mean it makes sense to anyone else. For this very simple reason, an editor is a huge benefit. Using an editor gives you the opportunity to obtain a different perspective** on your writing – the more objective the better – in order to assure that your ideas, story, and message are clearly understood by your audience.
2. Emotional Attachment
Just because a section of writing is your favorite part doesn’t necessarily mean that it actually works in your story. Emotional attachment can cause you to include things that may actually make your writing weaker, whether specific wording, plot elements, or details, etc. An editor will not have these emotional attachments, and can objectively analyze your story or essay and let you know what works and what doesn’t. It is much, much harder to make these painful cuts if the burden of judging what to keep and what to cut rests entirely on you.
3. Gaps in Knowledge
We can be blissfully unaware of our own errors, and this is one of the most common reasons writers seek out editors. Sure, we can proofread and catch typos and errors ourselves, but if we don’t know that we always misuse a particular vocabulary word or that we don’t quite understand when and how to use a semicolon, then there’s no way that we can catch the errors we simply aren’t aware we’re making. There’s no way to catch our own knowledge gaps, other than hours and hours of scrupulous research about every element of our writing, and we may miss some errors even then. But editors are trained in the art of writing, and not only are they objective readers who bring a different body of knowledge to cross-check yours, they are also professionals who know how to spot errors in writing, how to correct them, and/or how to find the answers to the things they don’t know. Editors can have gaps in knowledge, too, and they can make mistakes, but because they do this professionally, they also have a storehouse of experience to work from and can provide extremely valuable input on grammar, usage, punctuation, formatting, and more.
And the 4th and most important reason:
4. Your Writing Is Worth It
You have a unique voice that is the culmination of your distinct background, thoughts, feelings, and experiences. No one can tell your story or write your ideas quite like you can. Your writing is the embodiment of these ideas. But just like a parent lovingly cares for and dresses a beloved child appropriately for the weather, situation, etc., so that the child can go out into the world feeling comfortable and confident, your writing cannot perform at its best unless it is also properly “dressed.” The grammar, punctuation, format, and style of your writing can greatly impact how others perceive your writing. More importantly, they can impact whether your ideas get through at all. If you have ever stopped reading something a few sentences in because it was filled with typos or simply annoyed you, then you know what I mean. Your ideas deserve the best. They deserve an editor, because an editor can make sure your writing is not only error-free, but also that it is presented in the best way for your intended audience and for whatever medium through which you are planning to share it.
Simply put, a good editor can ensure you aren’t sending your ideas out into a snowstorm wearing only a bathing suit.
*Even editors need editors! I work as a freelance editor, but if I’m writing something for publication, I still use an editor – in addition to myself! – when I can. It is so much harder to edit your own work, for the reasons listed in this article.
**Note: If time or funds do not allow for the hiring (or unashamedly begging or trading for editing services from an editor friend), you can achieve some level of objectivity by simply letting your writing “get cold.” In other words, put it away for a while and come back to it after a few days or weeks have passed and you are in a very different mind-frame than you were when you wrote it. This can help you see things in a new way and give you a window into how others might see your work. It’s not ideal, because you are still limited by your own perspective, but it’s better than skipping the editing phase altogether.