The Sighted Leading the Sighted

I have just finished line editing one of the submissions for The Fauxpocalypse Project. I did not want to lose my feeling for the story as an ongoing narrative, so I decided to put aside today to work through it rather than edit it in several sections. After five hours – not including a break for lunch – I reached the end. I now have two cats who feel I owe them extra attention to make up for petting the clattering animal all day, and an even stronger belief that I will always need someone else to do at least one line-edit on my work before it is published.

Despite receiving praise from other authors for the thoroughness of my comments on their work, I was reminded that I cannot be that thorough on my own for a number of reasons, these three most strongly:

  • We do not see our writing in the same way we see that of others: one of the consistent comments on my submission when it was line-edited last week was that I omitted many commas. This was unsurprising to me. As older British statutes were written without commas, lawyers have always had issues with the comma, so I do sometimes lose them if I am not really focussing. However, one of the most frequent suggestions I made when editing today was adding a comma.
  • Knowing the correct grammar is only the beginning: I went to an English public school, a traditional university, and have worked in law for many years, so I have plenty of education and experience in complex and abstruse rules of British English usage. For moments of uncertainty I can turn to Fowler’s Dictionary of English Usage. However – even thought many of my friends and acquaintances have similar backgrounds – the English that I can write and the English that I hear daily are not structured in the same way. Fiction requires not just that you know the rules of grammar, but also that you know whether your narrator, and each speaker, applies those rules. The differences between even dialects of British English make it sensible to have a second set of eyes to check whether the deviations from formal usage are consistent.
  • I already love my story, so need to know if others will: It is possible – if extremely difficult – to spot where an idea has not made it fully onto the page, or, conversely, where too much detail obscures a delicate image. However, as the curses of publishers and authors throughout time attest, nothing can say for certain whether a particular tale will catch the Zeitgeist or fade away. Maybe the best solution lies in gathering many beta-readers, but, if that is either not possible or not proportionate, the favourable opinion of one person who is trying to pick holes is a good start.

Sharp readers might enquire whether this desire for an external editor contradicts my habit of self-editing this blog. The answer is left as an exercise for the reader. As a hint, I do not rely on the built-in WordPress proofreader.

Are there any other reasons that motivate you to have an external editor? Do you think that self-editing can be sufficient?

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