Copyeditors. I love them. Actually, I love all editors who engage in a sustained way with my writing (so that leaves you out, rejection editors!). I guess I have to admit I even like peer reviewers too. (But only the ones that accept, or at least revise-and-resubmit
me my work.)
As you know, I hate writing. Writing is the means by which I discover what I am thinking, and thus the type-laden screen is the medium wherein I almost immediately thereafter come to see that most of those ideas are half-baked, malformed, inadequate, too scary, derivative, under-theorized, over-theorized, too jokey, or just garden-variety awful. Naturally, I seek to avoid this. However, the writing eventually must and does get done, little by little, day by day, until either a requisitioning editor or a fed-up husband demands that it must be sent off. For review.
Why I love peer reviewers: they catch my errors of thinking, of reading, of citation, of methodology. This is invaluable. On those occasions where I think their suggestions are wrong, my writing and thinking get sharper in the act of defending my own stance. Usually they’re right: I’ve been immoderate here, slap-dash there, pulled a punch on my main point, hidden my conclusion in the middle of the third-to-last paragraph, not stated my Big Idea loud enough or soon enough. It might seem paradoxical, but knowing that reviewers are going to catch most issues of substance makes it easier for me to first put .docx file to email attachment: if my deepest fear is that my inadequacies as a writer and thinker will be exposed to the world, it is in fact reassuring to know that two or three people stand at the edge of the precipice, ready to arrest my hurtling dash over the side. They only sometimes seem to stick their feet out to hasten my flight to oblivion, and sometimes … they’re right.
Why I love editors: they allow me to turn writing into a conversation. I’m revising a big, mainstream, legacy writing handbook, with the mandate to liven up the tone and to bring the research and writing sections into the Internet age. My managing editor answers all my questions about why something needs to be there twice, or if I dare to end a sentence with a preposition at. She catches my booboos (and rampant informality). I don’t feel alone, because she not only demands that my drafts appear with regular frequency, but also indulges me in author-editor conversation. This boosts my confidence immeasurably: she’d tell me I’m a total doofus well before I get all 500 pages done, right? RIGHT???
Why I love copy-editors: they see the verbal tics I don’t realize I have; they find the ideal writer-me in the dross of my overworked prose. That is, they clean up my writing of repetitions of phrasing, idea, grammar, and more. That is, they save me from the blindness I have around my own writing, as a practice of setting particular words on a page in a particular order. (See what I did there? Can you guess my tic?). Just tonight I got a copy-edited version of an article back from an editor. It was gorgeous; it was all the copy-editor. Sentences deklunked! Tics softened! Ambiguities eliminated! He probably made 40 small interventions in an MS of 8000 words. I accepted every damn one of them. Thank God: I like this new version so much better, even though it still sounds completely like me. Only without so many semicolons, and without so very many ‘that is’.
All writing is collaborative, even our sole-authored projects. I would be sunk without reviewers and editors. The genius in the garret without these supports is a rambling loon; with these supports, she is a published writer.
One thought on “In praise of copyeditors, and editors, and reviewers …”
I'm curious – do you notice a gender dynamic in your editing relationships? Almost all my editors and writing group partners have been female (excepting the unknown quality of peer-reviewers)and I've had incredibly fruitful relationship with them. The one male editor in my life took years to train; he was extremely resistant and still finds that kinds of collaborative discussions I thrive on to be frustrating. A subset of one isn't a good study, though. Have you noticed any patterns?
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