Name Theory: Edit Before Critique, Then Edit Again After

Once upon a time I studied journalism in college. I sucked at it. I did, however, enjoy editing.

I liked the rules and how editing makes writing more beautiful.

I enjoyed it, until I realized that so many writers are lazy and rude. I realized this when another journalism student said that he didn’t bother to put his writing into the appropriate “style” or to fix his grammar because “that’s what editors are for.”

As a copy editing intern I had about 15 minutes to review an article, make sure it fit the correct word limit, edit it, come up with an appropriate length headline, and send it on to the person above me (whose job was to make sure I was doing my job, not to correct anything). I didn’t have time to fix everything, or to look anything up, or to do much editing beyond getting it to fit into the allotted space and maybe fixing glaring errors.

He was the reason why I decided I shouldn’t be a copy editor. Him and the fact that most copy editors have to work crap hours for little pay and no respect.

Writers need to know what an editor’s job really is: An editor’s job is to help you to make your writing the best it can be. But editors don’t do the re-writes, and editors can only encourage you so much. You need to do the work.

Writers need to know that it is their job to make sure that their writing is always as perfect as possible before an editor, or a reader, or a critique partner has to look at it. Writers need to make sure to fix their spelling, their grammar, their glaring errors, their plot, their characterization, and their consistency—all before they ask someone else to look at their writing.

This is called respect. This is called professionalism. This is called being a responsible adult.

Maybe you can see where I’m going. Maybe you can see the smoke coming out of my ears.

I’m an open book. I show all of my emotions, and I am much less controlled than I know I should be. I’m trying, but I can’t always keep it all in.

This is my time to vent.

I have started a new writing critique group, which initially had 12 people interested and “committed” to getting together regularly to work to help each other improve our writing. This group has been whittled down to 6.

I had high hopes for this group, because I really want to get my writing to the point where I can pursue publication. I’m not sure if this group is going to cut it, though.

Why? Because of a lack of respect. Because of a lack of professionalism. Because of a lack of being responsible adults.

One of these interested and committed writers has never showed to a meeting, and never contacted us to let us know she couldn’t make it, and never sent any notes to anyone. This I can accept.

One of these writers has an obvious lack of writing knowledge and not as much to add to our conversation as I would hope. This I can accept.

Two of these writers have thought nothing of sending us writing that they have never reviewed, that is riddled with simple spelling errors, grammar errors that make some sentences nearly unreadable, dropped words, words that don’t make sense in the context they are used, and a plethora of other problems.

I have a serious issue with this.

The other writer (other than myself), has a novel that is the most interesting of the bunch, the most readable, the closest to being ready for publication, and something that we have been able to have great writing conversations about. Her work is readable. I love her for this.

I think part of the reason why her writing is so good already is because she belongs to another critique group, and she has learned what a critique group is for.

As she said to one of the other writers this weekend, a critique group is for when you have done all you can with your novel and you need other writers to help you see issues you could not find on your own so that you can polish your writing.

Critique groups are to help you get beyond your own limitations. They are not magic workers.

One of my problem writers said that he would have seen some of his errors if when he had re-read his chapter, but he sent us his first draft. So instead of us having a valuable discussion of his work (as could have happened if he’d edited his work) we had to discuss the many errors that had distracted us from finding a point in his rambling first pages.

The other problem writer has said that we should just overlook her errors and tell her if the plot and characterization works. We can’t. All we see are the errors.

How can I see the plot when I can barely read some of the sentences? How can I see the characterization when I have to slow down so much just to understand what is going on or who is speaking or (literally) what her dialect speaking characters are saying?

It’s like she’s asking me to look at the forest and ignore the trees, but all I see is that her trees are alternatingly neon orange, upside-down, covered in cats, and made of tin. If only her trees were a normal color, right side-up, covered in foliage, and made of wood, I may actually be able to tell if they were all in a row.

The errors are too glaring for me to see the writing as anything but an error. It is a writing fail.

Please, writers, I beg of you: Please edit your writing to the best of your ability before you inflict it on others. Use spell check and grammar check, use dictionaries and thesauri and encyclopedias, read a few books on writing and read a few books in your genre, put everything you can into your writing and make sure that your readers can read it and want to read it. (What is a critique partner, but an early reader of your work.) Make sure that you do your due diligence, so that we can help you to polish your writing.

We want to help you, but you have to help us first by making your writing readable.


If any of you have taken your writing as far as you can take it, and would like for me to be a beta reader for you, I would love to offer you my opinions on your story (I’ll even offer my “expert” opinions on your characters’ names. 😉 ). Just leave me a comment and I’ll be in touch.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s