Learning by Editing

“Would you like to edit a novel I’m working on?” a man asked me. “Also, I would like you to have free reign to make any changes you deem necessary.” I’m honored. For not only is this man a friend, but he’s  a university professor, and he’s asking me to be his editor. Sure, part of it is because he wants me to learn the editing and rewriting process, but it’s still an honor because he sees my potential. It goes without saying that I seized  the opportunity.

As authors we are always trying to improve our craft, and perhaps there isn’t any better way than becoming an editor for someone. Some may disagree. After all, with our own projects taking up our time, why engage in editing someone else’s work? Simply put, it helps us to improve our own writing while we work on improving someone else’s. If such a straightforward answer isn’t convincing enough, then here is a short list to add some substantial claims as to why an author should take on the role of editor for others.

  1. Improving punctuation, grammar, and spelling:  I would love to say that I am a master of proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but that wouldn’t be true. Commas are the primary perpetrators of my writing ailments. Many times they seem simple to place, other times I just don’t know where to put one. Nonetheless, editing has helped sharpen my skills when it comes to punctuation, spelling, and grammar, as well as finding and rooting out redundant words.
  2. Learning to craft better characters: This can happen in one of two ways. The writers who have been hired may find that the writers that they are editing for have a better grasps on how to flesh out a character. Learning from a writer who is a pro at characterization can help the beginning writer who is in the process of editing. On the other hand, maybe the client the writer is editing for has incredibly weak characters, devoid of emotion, motivation, fears, and passions. In that case, the beginning writer can offer the client feedback, which will be a benefit to both parties. Either way, the writer learns how to create better characters when editing for someone else.
  3. Developing a feel for fluid storytelling: This partly goes back to point one. As previously mentioned, one has to learn to avoid redundancy. While writing, I have learned that I have often repeated the same idea, worded differently, in two to three sentences or in an extra paragraph. Or I have used the same word one too many times. Editing for someone has taught me how to trim down the fat by cutting out unnecessary extra sentences and paragraphs that repeat the same concept, as well as how to substitute a different synonym to avoid repetition.
  4. How to engage the reader’s attention: Does the story come to life, or does it lie flat and dead upon the pages? If it’s the latter, how does one breathe life into it? A good novel or short story must have the ability to enrapture the reader, transcending him or her into another realm beyond this one, or be able to help the reader identify with the story if it’s a realistic one. Flat writing can’t do this. I can’t adequately describe flat writing, but one recognizes it when one reads it. Seeing such when editing can help writers know how to improve not just the work of their client, but their own.

In short, by editing for another writer, I have been learning how to properly edit my own work. I have not just seen the flaws in my client’s, but I have seen what’s wrong with my own and how I can improve it. Ironically, I would be surprised if this post could use some more editing.

(C) Jonathan Scott Griffin

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