Hire a Red Pen: Why you should suck it up and get an editor

Photo credit: caprisco from morguefile.com

Writing wants to be read.  Even when we write for ourselves, we write to an audience (we simply have the luxury in that case, of knowing the mind of our audience perfectly).  But on the off-chance you’re actually writing to someone else, to a larger audience, writing for publication or persuasion, you need an editor.  Here’s why.

You don’t know what you wrote.

Before I knew you could take classes in writing, I took classes in art.  I drew still lives and portraits and spent hours figuring out hands.  In my junior year of high school my teacher tapped me on the shoulder while I sat before a 4-foot canvas covered in surrealist angst and said, “Kendra, what are you painting?”  It’s a woman, I said.  Her long neck is arched painfully and her arm is coming through her breast to choke herself.  “I see.  Well, the class thinks it looks more like a penis.”

Writing rarely comes with its own explanation.  It is already its own explanation.  You cannot stand in a gallery next to your own painting, forever explaining what you were trying to do.  The written word is the same.  Whether you write a blog, or novels, or random pieces of fan-fiction, you will not get a chance to speak with each reader and make sure that what you were trying to write was actually what you wrote.  An editor allows you to see what you’ve written from a few paces back.  You know what you want to write, but your editor will tell you what actually made it to the page.

You left some things out.

Not every story needs to be tied up neatly at the end.  Not every question raised needs answering.  If you’re a writer (or a reader) of six word stories or 100 word stories or any sort of flash fiction, you’ll understand.  One six word story (often attributed to Hemingway, though likely not his), illustrates this point perfectly:

For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

Some things are allowed to just be.

But not everything.  A second reader will be able to tell you what doesn’t make sense, and that is an incredibly powerful tool.  When you know that your reader is confused, you can decide exactly how confused you’d like her to be.  All your decisions as a writer become more conscious because you know the outcome.

Your first draft is a failure.

You might be a great writer, but you still need an editor because you’re not perfect.  No first draft is perfect.  No one is perfect.  Neither is your red pen.  But you can’t improve without feedback, and your goal, no matter what you’re writing about or who you’re writing to, must be improvement.

Programmers talk a lot about the benefits of failure.  Embracing failure is embracing progress.  You step away from your project and allow it to be criticized so that it can be improved, so that you can improve.  Artists are encouraged to spend hours and days and years perfecting the simple things.  Draw me a circle.  Sketch this figure.  Musicians, too, practice scales.  Every craft requires practice, failure, critique, and improvement.  One step removed from that cycle sacrifices progress.

Readers allow you to improve your writing.  The benefit of a Red Pen is that she also has practice reading and helping writers to improve.




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