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Editing your own work is like removing your own tonsils—possible but painful. --Anonymous
I wish that I had understood editing years ago, before I wrote thousands of pages for others to read. I’ve always liked to write, and I’ve actively tried to improve my writing skills. For too long, though, I assumed that churning out words qualified me to edit my own work. Writing and self-editing are two sides of the same coin, right?
I learned early that writing is worthless without editing, and I realized later that editing is the "heads" side of my personal coin. I taught students that the trick for overcoming blank-page panic is to write badly and edit well. My mantra was “writing is editing.”
Now I know that my coin metaphor needs devaluation, or at least a bit of modification. During decades of trying to polish my own work, I missed the true currency. Although self-editing is essential to writing, subjectivity limits its value. (And for a great explanation of self-editing, watch Beth Dunn's YouTube talk, "Fix Your Writing.")
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) defines subjective as—among other
meanings—“peculiar to a particular individual.” Self-editing, then, is subjective editing. No matter the level of intense scrutiny applied, subjective editing leans on the peculiar viewpoint of the particular individual who wrote the original words.
Self-editors subjectively understand their desired meanings and natural jargon, and they lack the distance, perspective, and objectivity to see their writing through the eyes of readers. After staring at the screen or page, authors become vulnerable to mind tricks, visualizing expected words and punctuation. Self-editing often mentally fills in the missing commas, skips over the homonyms and word-usage problems that spell-checkers famously confuse, and overlooks leaps of logic. Subjective editors produce final drafts but not final products.
Using the Merriam-Webster definition of objective, objective editors are trained to approach those important final drafts “without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations.” Professional copyeditors and proofreaders catch gaps between writers’ intentions and readers’ perceptions. All trained editors seek final products that ensure authentic connections between authors and audiences. We don't want anything to take readers out of the flow.
Objective editors do not redo or undo the necessary work of subjective self-editing; they augment writers’ final drafts by pointing to communication glitches that obscure the message. My previous writing efforts recognized that readers need the subjective voices of writers who self-edit, but I finally understand that to clearly discern those voices, readers also need the objective eyes of copyeditors and proofreaders who see from a distance.
What are your thoughts on the value of objective editing? Please share them in the comments below.