Everyone Needs an Editor

by Gabrielle C. Durham

Have you ever been asked to donate to the worthy cause of sending the Lady Loins to the state semi-finals? I have, and I think I gave a couple bucks because of the doubtlessly unintentional prurience of the street fund-raising efforts of these aspiring young athletes and their lacking sign-makers.

As an editor, I think everyone needs an editor’s eye to pass over any written material, including my own. When we review our own writing, our brain fills in any lacunae in logic or syntax. This does not happen when we read other authors’ output, at least not as often. If you want to point the finger at why this occurs no matter how conscientious we are, go ahead and blame science.

You have likely seen the memes that dot social media about being able to read garbled words and sentences such as:

Tehse wrods may look lkie nosnesne, but yuo can raed tehm, cna’t yuo? [from mnn.com]

When relatively simple (one- to two-syllable words) words have their first and last letters in the correct place, our brains decipher them fairly quickly. Why does this happen? Because we rely on context to determine meaning. Whether we are counting the number of letters when we play Hangman, watching a show like “Wheel of Fortune,” or working on a crossword puzzle, our brains are analyzing the context to create solutions.

Your brain wants to fill in a pattern so that the jumble make sense. Measuring pattern recognition is one of the ways to test IQ, intelligence, and job fit (how you think being perhaps more important than what you think). According to this article from Frontiers of Neuroscience, “A major purpose of the present article is to forward the proposal that not only is pattern processing necessary for higher brain functions of humans, but [superior pattern processing] is sufficient to explain many such higher brain functions including creativity, imagination, language, and magical thinking.” Patterns and context matter tremendously.

So, what does this have to do with needing an editor forthwith? It comes down to this: You can’t be trusted.

Every writer should have the puritanical concern that “public” is misspelled. Many guffaw-worthy gems tend to awaken our inner middle schooler. The following are examples from writers who really needed to hire someone else to read the ad copy. Finding errors is not particularly difficult, and there is a distinct pleasure in doing so.

Menus can be fertile ground for finding printing mistakes, especially those of non-native speakers. Technical directions for electronics manufactured or assembled on other continents are ripe with linguistic gallimaufry. This is low-hanging fruit, though. The examples that bring the greatest piercing joy are a form of word salad, texts so perfect in their impenetrability of prose that they can mean almost anything and, therefore, nothing.

A superior example is this execrable translation that I was supposed to fashion into a biography for a journalist who wrote in French. Now, translation is an art that I have in no way mastered, but I read French well enough to recognize a more automated, less human version that does not burnish the author’s legend. Judge for yourself, mes compères.

  • “I spent 13 years there. My adaptation came from my love at first sight of the multi-facetted french cuisine.
  • “My dear Father outclassed in typical French flavour dishes making. Very early on, my father stirred in me the taste for well-made fare. I remember these good recipes he stewed gently for us in his spare times and the finely wrapped dishes he brought at home the day following celebrations.
  • “You shall bear in mind that, at school, my integration has gradually been set.
  • “Early, the passion for this communication tool sowed in me.
  • “How not to be filled with admiration for the working strength and bags of passion of all these men and women whose names became major points of references and who still remain legends revered by a massive audience?”

My intention is not to mock the translation; the author spent a good chunk of change for the services of the lout who created these shimmering examples of nonsense. Some sentences require a little teasing to find the meaning that the author intended, whereas other sentences seem like lost causes to be euthanized. The author’s intent is to get the words on the page, sometimes artfully, other times less so, but the editor questions every line for meaning, comprehension, and adherence to the greater structure.

I hope I have helped you see that no man or woman is an authorial island. It is not a sign of weakness to hire an editor to help you fix what ails your content.