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The Problem With Editing

Posted by on Jul 18, 2010

As y’all know, I fancy myself as a writer. I think at this point I can qualify that statement with all the different types of things I write and have written. I thought about recounting all the things I write, but then decided it was easier to link you back to a previous post on how much I write. Actually, I’m writing more than what was in this post at the time, which is scary.

However, I wanted to talk about editing for a little bit. There’s always problems with editing, especially when you’re editing something that someone else wrote. Editing really comes down to the issue of what you like and are looking for versus what someone else has said. I find that it’s a fine line sometimes between editing to help someone fix typographical or grammatical errors and changing the entire tenor of what someone has written.

About six weeks ago I helped a friend edit her book. She’d had some other people look at it and I guess they’d made some suggestions here and there. I went at it with a critical eye, first looking for typing errors, then looking for grammatical errors, and finally what I consider errors of omission. Let’s take these in order, because they’re quite different.

Typing errors are more than just misspellings. A typographical error could mean things that are capitalized that shouldn’t be and vice versa. They could mean words that are spelled correctly but not the right word for the sentence, such as when we see people always getting wrong the concept of ‘there’, ‘they’re’, and ‘their’. This is actually the easiest thing to fix because most often the rules are cut and dry.

Grammatical errors are in a way the hardest edits to make. One of the issues with grammatical errors is that you have to take into account the fact that people speak differently depending on where they live, and of course where you live. For instance, most places I’ve lived in, when you went outside to throw the ball around, you were ‘playing catch.’ In downstate New York, and it appears areas of Pennsylvania, they call that ‘having a catch.’ Another example is that when I was younger we would ‘go to lunch’, and now people ‘do lunch’.

Those are small examples, but they become important when you need to make sure a person’s home voice is heard instead of the voice of the editor. There are words I often use when writing something that someone will say “I’d have used this word instead.” My general thought is that “You might have used that word, but I wrote it”, so I tend to stick to my guns. However, if someone used the same word four times in one sentence, suddenly it’s a different issue because the readability of the sentence is in question, whether the writer understood what he or she meant to say. There’s also the issue of writing for your audience to understand you, yet, because it’s how you talk, suddenly throwing in a word like ‘perspicacious’ because it hits your fancy, and now you’re sending people scrambling to look it up because you didn’t think of writing ‘using good judgment’ at the time. If it’s honest and how someone speaks, every once in awhile you just have to leave it alone.

Errors of omission are either difficult or hard, depending on the reader and the types of things they’re used to looking for. At my writer’s group, one of the participants is always looking for more detailed descriptions of people and what they look like, little touches in rooms to help her see it in her mind, and other thing such as what foods smelled like, did mouths water, what kind of sound a car made, etc. That kind of thing doesn’t always enter my mind. What I look for are things that don’t explain something that a writer has put into a story. For instance, a character’s name being mentioned without any explanation before or afterwards as to who that person is or was. Or a tale being told that’s missing so much detail that you wonder why it’s there in the first place.

Something I don’t do all that often on this blog is edit. When I write here, I’m kind of in my own Mozart zone; what I say is what I say, and when I’m done saying it I move on. I do look for typos, but as Sire has shown, every once in awhile I miss a word. This blog is freestyle, and I enjoy it for that reason. I edit much more thoroughly on both my business blog and my finance blog, because the audience for those blogs is much different than this one, and the topics always more serious. When I wrote my first book I edited it 7 times, and I asked a few other people to edit portions of it as well. Remember I helped Guy Kawasaki edit his book Reality Check back in 2008, one of many people he asked for help (talk about feeling honored!). That was one time I didn’t speed read.

Editing is a very important component of writing, but its importance devolves depending on what it is you’re doing and your audience. While no one wants to read a lot of stuff that’s missing simple words over and over so that it gets in the way of easy reading, studies have found that most of us will insert words here and there that are missing so that it’s not a big deal. If you’re writing your own blog, do the best you can with some effort, but don’t hurt yourself. If you’re writing for others, or hoping to make money, that’s a different story altogether. Remember the three critical areas of editing, whether it’s for yourself or for someone else.

Godinger 25335 21 Inch Crystal Fish Bowl

Godinger 21-Inch Crystal Fish Bowl

Price – $118.46

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Yeah, I know why you don’t edit all that much on this blog Mitch, it’s because you have so much fun finding errors in mine πŸ˜€

I’ve only ever helped my kids with editing their homework and that’s enough as far as I’m concerned. Even though I consider myself a writer I know I’m not good enough to attempt editing another person’s work.

July 18th, 2010 | 12:08 AM

I don’t know; you find some things on mine here and there. Still, as I admitted, I like to freestyle here. Now, if you find that kind of stuff on my other blogs, I need to be slapped!

July 18th, 2010 | 12:33 AM

Yeah, but it’s so rare each find is a gem in itself.

July 18th, 2010 | 12:37 AM

I’m going to thank you for that one, my man. I love when you think you’ve got one on me, only to learn that, because of translation, I was correct. πŸ˜‰

July 18th, 2010 | 12:39 AM

Yeah, you can thank your American English for that one πŸ˜‰

July 18th, 2010 | 12:49 AM

True, since Aussies & the British seem to have this thing with throwing “S” into so many words lol

July 18th, 2010 | 12:52 AM

S? How so?

July 18th, 2010 | 1:53 AM

There are a lot of words where y’all will use S instead of T or Z. The latest word I learned about was “apologise” instead of “apologize”.

July 18th, 2010 | 2:15 AM

Yeah, i wish you guys would change that. it really freaks me out. Other words that bother me are where you guys drop the ‘u’ out of words like colour, favourite and honour. Honestly you guys really should learn how to spell. πŸ˜€

July 18th, 2010 | 3:00 AM

I knew you’d try to find a way to blame us. The thing is, we spell things the way they’re pronounced; okay, most of the time at least. We don’t make the U sound in those words, and we don’t make the S sound in other words. We go by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and of course he was American! lol

July 18th, 2010 | 3:07 AM

You can’t blame an Aussie for trying.

July 18th, 2010 | 3:33 AM

You’re killing me, Sire! lol

July 18th, 2010 | 5:37 PM

I often have to edit peoples content when helping them with blogs and such.

I was also the “editor” for a series of emails our marketing team was doing for an email campaign.

I always feel like I’m going to hurt the persons feelings when I point out errors.

That’s one great thing about blogs- they don’t have to be perfect. I blog like I talk…I am the creator and the editor……

July 18th, 2010 | 8:52 AM

Carolee, I never worried about pointing out errors like that. Other types of errors, though, you always wonder how people will take it. But I’ve found that if a bad message is delivered nicely, it’s usually taken well.

July 18th, 2010 | 5:39 PM

Great points, Mitch, and excellent advice. It’s always easier to be ruthless when editing something I’ve written. Acting as editor for another person is a much more delicate task. It’s like the difference between shaving my own face and shaving someone else’s. Either way, there’s going to be yelling and crying and a lot of blood. But when I’m editing my work, I can focus on the finished product and not worry so much about the process.

By the way, I’ve never had to shave anyone else, and I hope I never do.

July 18th, 2010 | 1:21 PM

You had me scared when you said there would be blood either way! lol

July 18th, 2010 | 5:40 PM

I always edit my blog posts. Most of my errors are typos and lapses in concentration. I don’t bother anymore to correct many of my grammatical errors as they are the fault of the lasting side effects of a prescribed drug I was on for 18 months… I’ve never really got my ability back. It’s very sad as I used to produce and edit a poetry magazine and my grammar and spelling were excellent.

It is difficult sometimes editing other people’s writing. Some people take it in good spirits, some don’t. When I had the poetry magazine, the professionals didn’t mind being edited but a lot of the amateurs hated it.

July 18th, 2010 | 5:31 PM

Val, I know what you mean. There are times when I’m not crazy about someone else critiquing my stuff because it doesn’t seem constructive. For instance, saying a character is unbelievable when you’ve based it on someone you know doesn’t help anyone. As for poetry, you’d think I could critique it well, being a former lyricist, but I find that it either makes sense to me or it doesn’t, and other than that I’m at a loss.

July 18th, 2010 | 5:42 PM

Great points Mitch. It isn’t always easy to catch the mistakes that you’ve made in your own work, so it is nice if you have a second pair of eyes.

July 21st, 2010 | 1:56 AM

Ps: I love that fish bowl!

July 21st, 2010 | 1:56 AM

Isn’t it cool? If my wife wasn’t kind of a fish killer I’d buy one. lol

July 21st, 2010 | 9:48 AM

I wanted to slap the last editor which was working in my team. He was using obsolete phrases, heavy speech and misleading sentences. KISS principle have always work for me especially on internet.

July 21st, 2010 | 9:28 AM

That’s too bad, Gordon. I never take out or add anything that changes the tenor of what someone has written unless the sentence isn’t understandable. What’s funny is that it’s easy to do while reading, yet I find myself in public sometimes trying to figure out a way to say a sentence without sliding into some old speech patterns, especially if my wife is around.

July 21st, 2010 | 9:52 AM

Hi Mitch,
To me editing is the toughest part of writing. I love it when I’m on a roll and am able to produce lots of inpirational content.
But then when I have to stop and structure it all, my brain starts to freeze. I end up over analyzing and taking far too much time in the editing phase.
It’s not really the grammatical or typographical part that tires me but the logical sequential flow of the content that gets me hooked up. If the first paragraph is logically “flowing” to the second and so forth.
I know how to do it, but it’s just so time consuming and a bit exhausting to tell you the truth. When I’m at this final stage of writing I only work well if I’m rested and my brain isn’t too tired. For example I usually can’t write articles at night. It’s like my neurons want to go to sleep- LOL. Anyways I liked the way you explained editing.
All the best,

July 21st, 2010 | 6:35 PM

That’s interesting, Erin, and I’m sorry you put that kind of pressure on yourself. I know quite a few people like you, where it just seems like you need to get it right, so much so that it takes a little bit of the joy out of it. I think you’re probably fine, and if you weren’t writing in some kind of order you probably wouldn’t be a good writer at all. It might even be somewhat entertaining, to tell you the truth. lol

Lucky for me, I can pretty much write at any time, as long as I’m in the mood. Same goes for editing; when you have to get it done, you just have to get it done. πŸ™‚

July 22nd, 2010 | 12:57 AM