What an editor actually does (authors, brace yourselves)

I’ve found that the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.
— Don Roff

If you're not willing to shred your own precious prose--or even reconsider your whole concept in the first place--you might want to hire an experienced editor to do it for you. In this post I refer mainly to the book writing process, but the same ideas apply to any written document in varying degrees.

It came to my attention recently that many writers have no idea what an editor does. Do they proofread? No, proofreaders do that. (If someone tells you to use spell-check instead, run away!) Proofreaders aren't editors. They're essential prior to publication to check spelling, punctuation, formatting, grammar, and other important details that make a document ready to print.

Oh, just a trim? LOL.

Oh, just a trim? LOL.

On the other hand, editors can be like Edward Scissorhands. A good one can spot a special beauty or unique idea inside your creation, and (after consulting with you) will dive in head first to bring those qualities out. When she finally stands back, there may be large drifts of fluffy words on the floor. You might find yourself astonished that what you originally wrote could now be so brilliant, so concise, and so perfectly...you.

Ideally, an editor is a cooler, rational version of yourself. Most editors are also kind and diplomatic, but our job is always to make your work gleam like the lustrous gem you mean it to be. If you have genius, an editor will bring it to the forefront. If your basic idea seems to miss the mark entirely, she'll tell you, and have another idea ready.

One thing you should expect when you hire an editor is that your work is going to change--sometimes drastically, sometimes in subtle ways that will be difficult for you to identify. It will be you, only better.

So take heed, authors! If you want your work to achieve its maximum potential, be prepared for a birthing process. if you're terrified to lose control over a single syllable of your masterpiece, it will be hard on you. But if you can relax, breathe (hee-hee-hee!), and release your grip, you'll find yourself in a collaboration that will bring the best possible you into the world.

Spell-checkers suck.

It'll be fine.

It'll be fine.

In the early days of my freelance experience, a very wealthy man in Santa Barbara hired me to help him polish up a number of business documents. I think it must've been his very wealthy wife's idea, because one day as we worked in his glass-walled, mountain-view office, he blurted out, "I don't see why I can't just use Word to spell-check all this stuff!" As he was saying this, I'd happened to be making a note on one of his spelled-checked business letters that referred to "pubic speaking." Pubic speaking.

When I mentioned this amusing (and catastrophic) evidence of the spell-checker's egregious lack of contextual insight, he blushed, sighed, and muttered, "Geez. All right."

And that's why you need a competent editor and proofreader. Because spell-checkers suck.