The best money I ever spent in life was the $50 I handed over to a 20-year-old college kid who was working a copy desk. I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of a year writing and rewriting and rewriting (and then rewriting some more) on my dissertation. For those of you who have never heard of a dissertation, it’s the giant book that Ph.D. candidates have to write that nobody ever reads that shows you are worthy of being called “doctor” by somebody at some point in time.
I was at the final phase when all the people had signed off on everything that needed a signature and all that was needed was a final edit for grammar, style, spelling and consistency. After that, it was time to print it on “the good paper” and then off to life as a “Doctor of Paper” (to quote one of my former student’s parents).
The problem? I’d gone blind to the text.
I had read it so often, I was filling in words that weren’t there. I wasn’t able to see inconsistencies in style or formatting. I had no idea if I had spelled anything right, spellcheck be damned. So, I found the most trustworthy member of a student-staffed copy desk at my newspaper and cut a deal: I handed her my APA (not to be confused with AP) styleguide along with my dissertation and forked over the cash. In return, she made me look less inept.
When she finished, I ponied up an extra $10 or $20 or whatever I had on me at the time. It was worth it. It also codified a truism that all writers should understand: Everybody needs an editor.
Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute hit on this today with his look at the love/hate relationship news writers have with the copy desk. Writers craft prose, copy deskers crush souls. Writers live for imagery, copy deskers imagine the lawsuit that’s coming unless the story gets shored up a bit better. And so it goes, the tug-of-war between writers and editors.
Like everything else on this site, however, editing isn’t just a newspaper issue. EVERYONE in media writing needs an editor. If you don’t believe me, look what happens when an advertising firm thinks, “Yeah, that looks right…”
As a writer, you should always go through your copy multiple times, looking for various things that can go wrong. As copy editor Jennifer Morehead notes in the upcoming edition of Dynamics of Media Writing:
“I’ve tried to approach stories of every kind in the same basic way: They *must* be accurate, they *must* be clear… Someone always notices,” she said. “Errors in any story, from local crime briefs to big features, erode credibility.”
And when you are done, find someone you trust who can provide your work with another look.
Everyone needs an editor. (And I’m sure there are at least a dozen errors in this post, so feel free to be mine…)