On editing


A few years ago, after spending a great deal of time in the deep end of a client’s novel (i.e. a developmental edit), it was time to clean it up with a full copyedit before agents and publishers could be queried. Even though I have solid copyediting skills, I realized that rather than searching out typos and other flaws, I was still mulling the details of story and characters. I was “copy-blind.”

Why is that?

Just maybe—and this is pure speculation—maybe it’s due to how our brains deal with different types of information. The developmental process requires literary interpretation, creativity, flexibility, and adaptability. The editor has to absorb what is said and done in a story, make sense of it, and, if needed, come up with alternatives for the author to consider.

I’ll stay away from the popular notion of left brain vs. right brain functions. It may be relevant but I’m sure it’s not that simple.

However, I do suspect that a different part of the brain lights up during the process of copyediting, the one (or ones) attending to rules, order, and rote memory. When copyediting a text, the editor must see letters and numbers on a page as distinct symbols, organized according to certain standards into words, sentences, paragraphs, and so on. Copyediting is the top layer, the final touches put onto a creative endeavor. No more messing with what’s underneath.

This is a very unscientific explanation, I know, but I’m not alone. Other editors have told me they feel the same.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to edit both the story and the copy. Certainly, with enough distance and discipline, a single editor can manage to work on both levels. It’s in my clients’ best interest, however, for me to refer them to someone else to clean up after our developmental work is done.

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Pictured left: Silver Falls State Park, Oregon