A good editor respects the writer’s voice.
Before I’ve read too far into your book, I hear it—your own unique voice, your rhythms, your intentions. (If it’s not there, we have a problem.) And I start to understand what’s at the heart of your book—your book—where you want it to go, what it wants to be. From then on, that’s the star we steer by. Straight on till morning.
I’ve been editing professionally since 2001, and non-professionally (and possibly unprofessionally) since I was twelve. You heard me. For two years, in junior high, Miss Disher marched us straight through Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition and never skipped a single page. We had to write out all the sentences—every last, boring, tedious one—and diagram them. And every week, we had to write a composition. Miss Disher handed them back covered with red-pencil corrections and suggestions for us to incorporate. When we handed them back in, rewritten, they were better. And we had learned something.
I can’t imagine a better training ground for a writer and editor.
I have been a compulsive reader since my first Nancy Drew at age eight. I’m not sure when I realized that I was mentally rewriting passages that caught at me, like a piece of gum on the sidewalk, but to this day that’s how I know a word or a paragraph needs work. It tugs at me and, in my head, I hear the sentence the way it should be. When I read a piece of writing that lets me sail on, unhindered, without the least inclination to rewrite a word, I know I’m in the hands of an extraordinary writer (and usually a really good editor).
I have good literary instincts and an excellent ear, a solid grounding in grammar and punctuation, a strong sense of syntax, and a deep feeling for the rhythm of writing. I’m one of those hopeless nerds who likes reading the dictionary. I am a passionate believer in the serial comma. I know the rules and when I don’t, I look them up. (When I get tired of reading the dictionary, I read The Chicago Manual of Style or Strunk and White.) Sometimes I use sentence fragments or begin sentences with And–or both. I have even been known to end a sentence with a preposition because sometimes, a preposition is the best thing to end a sentence with. But the most important thing for my clients to understand is my bone-deep conviction that your book is your creation, not mine. I am absolutely adamant about preserving the author’s voice and intent.
Writing is important. I believe that good writing can change a life—or change the world. I also believe that every writer needs a good editor—even great writers. Even editors need editors. Because good editing makes good writing better. One red-penciled word at a time.
Thanks, Miss Disher.
—Lori Brown Patrick