“Everyone needs an editor.” Ernest Hemingway
Papa Hemingway, one of the great prose stylists of the last century, was dead on. Human nature is such that we find it difficult to be rigorously honest about our own work. We may be able to spot the occasional misspelling or misplaced comma, but we won’t catch them all without help. The fact is that it’s a rare writer who can look at his or her own work with an objective and critical eye.
Why is editing — and more extensive revising, where needed — so important? Because sloppy or nonexistent editing leaves the reader asking: “If he uses spell-check as a crutch and doesn’t know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’ and ‘they’re,’ why should I take the rest of his writing seriously? Where’s the pride?”
Professional editors assume that the copy they’re working on is far from perfect. Viewing themselves as “first readers,” they start with a clear understanding of the audience for any particular piece of writing. Then they edit for message, organization, paragraph and sentence structure and length, consistency in internal construction, word usage, and errors in punctuation and spelling as well as typos.
Think of it as quality control.
The result should be writing where clarity and brevity are natural partners, the message is clear, and style doesn’t get in the way of content. As the novelist Somerset Maugham said, “The best style is the style you don’t notice.”