Writers’ lids often drop in the final stages of editing work for publication. Even professional manuscript editors don’t always produce flawless results. A longtime journalist once told me that even after six proofreader runs, the California State Printing Office had never published any error-free text. Clearly, editing perfection can be an elusive goal that is always on the horizon.
Most experts agree that writing occurs in a process of stages such as prewriting, writing, proofreading, editing, and publishing. It’s not unusual for writers to love the pre-writing phase of the process: daydreaming, drawing, mapping, free writing, etc. And writing a first draft can be an exciting pleasure, as millions have discovered in the popular National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo), which has been held online in November every year since 1999. But the text fresh unprocessed is often a long way from ready to delight readers. As EB White said, “the best writing is rewriting.”
The revision differs from the edition mainly in that the first looks for “global” aspects such as the general narrative arc, the organization of the piece as a whole, the coherence between the recorded facts, and so on. Later, or at the same time, writers and editors search for and repair smaller “local” text elements that can annoy and distract readers. Improving and polishing the initial draft text in both directions is essential to produce a quality reading experience for your audience.
As a writing instructor at a California community college, I have studied and taught all phases of the writing process. Eagle eye editing methods include reading the job out loud (and listening!), Reading the job backwards one line at a time, and asking others to read it. But often writers simply cannot detect their own mistakes; however, it is a common part of human nature to find joy in identifying the mistakes of others. (You may come up with a picture of the teacher with a red pen in hand.)
A colleague of mine in college once proclaimed that we are all teaching what we most need to learn, which seems very true to me. As an author, I have worked hard to sharpen my own editing eyes. However, invariably, despite many test reviews by external editors and myself, I find bugs, some jarring and some almost unnoticed. A few days ago, I discovered a bug in one of my books, at the review / edit level, a bug that I wonder if attentive readers will notice. Discovering this flaw underscores once again the fact that while the proverbial “too many cooks” can spoil the broth, “too many editors” can be welcome at the workbench.