Proofreading v. Copyediting v. Editing

When I went looking for other blogs out there about editing, I discovered two things: First, writers love to write about writing and second, editors love to write about copyediting. I wanted to take this opportunity to clarify what this blog is about, despite my beautiful though visceral analogy before.

Proofreading is what I do at about 5 p.m. every day: I read proof print outs of the newspaper looking for glaring errors, like my co-worker’s tendency to mistake “it’s” for “its.” That’s not what this blog is about… besides when I make those errors myself. Which I will, but will try to fix pronto to minimize my embarrassment.

Copyediting is what I do on weekends for a local publisher, who sends me manuscripts that need doctoring in the way of grammar and punctuation. This is the kind of thing that will evoke 20 minute debates on sentence structure from those of us nerdy enough to care.

Most of the blogs I came across fall into the copyediting category, with things like daily reminders and tips on grammar and punctuation. I care about those things, but quite frankly, I could read a stylebook for that any day.

Editing incorporates the style concerns of the two previous categories, but encompasses much more than that. Editing is done in a relationship with a writer.

Let me be specific: One of my writers, Jason Schaefer, is currently working on a romantic dark comedy. Before he sat down to write, we went to maybe half a dozen smoky bars and had long conversations about his characters. One centered entirely on what they carried in their purses. At the end of those two weeks or so, my laundry smelled wretched, but I had a taste for what his world would look like on paper.

Those are the kind of conversations I live for as an editor. That’s what got me tied to his project. That’s why I stay up late reading cramped, typewritten pages.

Editing is not about correcting what’s wrong. It’s about finding what’s right and nourishing that.

Too many writers have a solid dislike for editors as a whole, and I think it’s because all they see is a woefully bleeding page returned from an editor’s hand.

When I edit, I’m not afraid to point out any instance of laziness or triteness. My writers are better than that. At the same time, I highlight where they’ve gone right: a good word pairing or a nice section of believable dialogue.

I think when you’ve read enough poor writing, and I’ve read my fair share, you’re more prone to edit this way. That or I’m just some weird version of a cynical optimist.