Who Needs An Editor

By Dawn Shamp, Table Rock Editor-in-Residence


Are my commas too common? Is there a cause for that clause? Are my words too wordy? Are they worthy?

There’s an editor for that.

All of us who put pen to paper or finger to keyboard need a skilled interloper to put helpful check marks, questions and ideas into our margins.

Writing is a cerebral and emotional process. It’s a public undoing of our private selves. Pride goeth into the mix, too, whether we admit it or not. Writing is personal. And it’s important.

Novel, essay, memoir, poem – we’re not committing this sweat, this effort, to language simply because we need something to line our underwear drawer or because we want to waste time on work we’ll be sending instantly to “delete.”

We want to share at least the best of our writing output, somehow. So we want it to be seamless. Unhampered by distractions in flow, syntax, spelling, style, cohesion, punctuation.

Wherever we are on the writing continuum, novice to seasoned word-slinger, we have a huge advantage if we understand two basic principles:

  1. There’s no shame in seeking help in wordsmithery;
  2. There’s no hope if we don’t.

In fact, those of us who have been in it for a decade or more have encountered more than a few writers wading in deep doo-doo because they “don’t-don’t” abide editing. We’ve been there, undone that.

Simply getting a fresh set of eyes on our manuscripts from an honest, encouraging, literate reader can often be helpful. Often. But not always. For example, most of us have had less-than-ideal experiences with amateur writing groups whose members may differ widely in talent, experience and preferences. Members’ feedback can be confusing, even maddening. Sadly, it leads some would-be writers to become so discouraged they throw in the towel.

I’ve been fortunate to experience excellent editing of my own published work. Each revelation from a deft proofreader and copyeditor makes me smile with appreciation and admiration, even as I also slap my forehead in disgust at my own stupid oversight.

Good editors have become my friends and mentors. And they’ve led me to my own career success in freelance editing.

Editing to New York publishing standards is a highly specialized trade. I spend many hours poring over a wide range of manuscripts. Sometimes I work weekends and holidays to meet deadlines. But I love it. And I’m never alone. I always have my most valued co-workers at my elbows: the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), 16th Edition and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition. They’re the bibles of the literary publishing world today. Others, too, join the fray.

Despite the countless hours I’ve spent wading through these tomes of taste, however, every new manuscript brings new challenges, surprises and style sheets.

It has helped me understand that as writers, we can’t furrow our brows over every nit that concerns picky editors. Most writers don’t need to know the frequently annoying minutiae of CMOS. That’s what editors are for. The writer’s overarching job is to spin a compelling piece of literature.

Bottom line: if we have a manuscript we plan to share with others, whether that means family and friends, self-published e-book readers or literary agents, we should take pride in it.

That means getting a tune-up from a professional editor who can share our vision while at the same time show us the typos, brainos and no-nos we’re sure to miss.

This is, after all, our progeny, and we don’t want to send it out the door trailing toilet paper from a shoe.

There’s an editor for that


To learn more about registering for the Table Rock Writers Workshop on September 8-12, 2014, click on this link:  tablerockwriters.com