The number one reason that editing is important is to prevent miscommunication. You write because you are communicating, either facts or an idea or a story. Even one small word or number out of place can completely change what you are trying to say. What you have to say is important or you would not have put in the effort to write it in the first place.
Writing is a powerful medium. There is something magical about the direct connection between the written word and your brain. Think of what it’s like when you are reading a book that you just can’t put down. You don’t think about each individual sentence or word, the work as a whole just flows into your brain. This is the experience you want your readers to have with your work. Unedited, sloppy writing prevents this from happening. All it takes is one error to interrupt that flow. Think about a section of dialogue you’ve read where you lost track of who was speaking and then became frustrated and put the book down. This didn’t happen because you’re a bad reader, it happened because of sloppy and poorly edited writing. You want your readers to become completely engaged in your work with nothing to interrupt their reading.
A Time and Place for Editing
To get into the flow of writing, you need to tell your inner editor to shut up. You don’t get into flow by forcing it to happen, you get there by removing the obstacles that block it. One of those obstacles is your inner critic, your inner editor. There is a time and place for editing, but it is not while you are in the flow of writing. Even as I write this post I am simply writing and not editing my work. I create blocks of text related to an idea and then allow myself to just write. It’s not until I’m finished getting my thoughts on paper that I go back and edit.
Another interesting side to this is that I totally get into flow while I am editing, especially editing someone else’s work. I love editing and it is very easy for me to get lost in the process and lose all track of time and place. I do this whether I am at home, sitting in a motel room, waiting in a laundromat or hanging out at a coffee shop. While I’m in flow, I’m able to get into the big picture part of editing which includes hearing the author’s voice and seeing how the story flows overall. I can easily see where point of view changes and where there is too much telling and not enough showing. In flow, I pick up all the mechanical and grammatical errors. I see the misplaced comma and the missing quotation mark. Editing engages my whole brain and in flow I am completely present.
Two Reasons for Self Editing
As much as I love the work, I think every writer should first learn to edit their own work. There are two reasons for this.
One, it is the rare writer that can do their best work in one sitting. Set your work aside for an hour or a day or a week. You’ll be surprised at how differently you see it when you come back. You’ll see not only the little errors, but also the big ones. You will see where you did not adequately get your idea across or you will think of a better way to present your story. Your writing will become tighter and and clearer. Edit your work and your writing will be better.
Two, you will save money when you hire an editor. Most freelance editors charge according to how much work they have to do. For example, I charge only a half cent per word for a light edit, while a heavier edit might cost one and a half to two cents per word. For a 100,000-word novel, that can mean the difference between $500 and $2,000—a big difference! You are not hiring an editor just for proofreading, you are hiring an editor to improve the bigger stuff like style and voice and flow.
You have something important to share; don’t let sloppy writing get in the way of that.