Thursday, August 22, 2013

Are You Really Editing Your Blog? Should You Be?

Originally published at, June 3, 2013

Well, yes. You should.

If you don’t already recognize the importance of quality writing, if you believe that as long as your readers know what you mean, it’s good enough — heck, if you believe in “good enough” — then you’re so far off the mark already that there isn’t much I can do to help you. You don’t need someone to fix your writing; you need to someone to fix your outlook.

 The rest of you, though, want your blog posts to be as well written and as error-free as possible. You might even have actively searched for help to improve your writing and editing. A quick Google search for “editing tips” yields a great many results, but most of them give the same suggestions: Have someone else read it. Read it out loud. Read it backward. Print it out and read it. And on and on.

That’s not editing

Truth be told, though, many of those supposed editing tips aren’t editing tips at all; they’re proofreading tips. They can help you find errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation, but they will do little to help you craft high-quality prose.

vw bug editingProofreading focuses on the obvious, bona fide errors, like typos, subject-verb disagreement and double spaces after periods. Proofreading is like washing a car. A car wash gets a lot of dirt off, but no amount of cleaning will turn your ’74 VW Beetle into a new Ford GT; proofreading will get the obvious bits of dirty wrongness out of your posts, but no amount of proofreading will turn your boring white paper into White Fang.

If proofreading is like car washing, then writing and editing are like designing and building the car. The science of aerodynamics and the internal combustion engine (think grammar and syntax) are fixed, but that still leaves a lot of room for creativity and innovation.

This is editing

ford editingWilliam Zinsser writes in On Writing Well, “Rewriting is where the game is won or lost; rewriting is the essence of writing.” Rewriting is just another word for editing. The acts of writing and editing are inextricably linked — and if you’re writing a blog solo, you have to do both. However, you might be well-served to hold off editing until you finish your first draft. As James Thurber tells us, “Don’t get it right, just get it written.” Or, to quote Ernest Hemingway, “Write drunk; edit sober.”

Editing is both an art and a science. It’s less about finding errors in grammar and more about finding errors in judgment. When you’re editing, you look at the big picture (developmental editing) as well as the details (copy editing) and try to build the best post you can.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting some concrete editorial steps you can take to raise the quality of your writing. I will, in short, teach you how to edit better.

Editorial perfection

There is a dark side to editing (and writing about editing) that we wordsmiths don’t usually like to talk about. It goes by various names: McKean’s Law, Skitt’s Law, Hartman’s Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation, The Iron Law of Nitpicking. I prefer the more self-referential Muphry’s Law — and no, I didn’t misspell that. Muphry’s Law states that any written material that talks about or criticizes editing or proofreading will contain some sort of editorial error.

This law simply sets into words what we all already know: Even in the world of professional editing, nobody’s prefect.

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