Why I do what I do?
I’m a story teller. I like to entertain people with stories, mostly true ones, and make them more interesting by inserting my own thoughts and perspective into the narrative. That’s called embellishment (which, by the way, is NOT a fancy word for lying). Friends, family, coworkers and strangers listen to my endless stream of anecdotes told around the kitchen table, in the break room, in the car, in the check-out line and even in public bathrooms. I write a lot of these stories and others in letters and emails, blog and social media posts, and essays.
Circumstances beyond my control led me to pursue a career change late in life and I am now a professional writer and editor. So now I actually get paid to tell stories. But I also get paid to help other people tell their stories better. That’s called editing (which, by the way, is not a fancy word for criticizing).
I put up with good-natured teasing about my preoccupation with grammar and punctuation (which, also by the way, is only a part of what editors “fix”). More people than I can count have told me they’re self-conscious sending me emails because they think I’m grimacing as I pick out all their spelling/grammar/punctuation errors. Well, I am, but I would never tell you that, and I really have better things to do than read your messages with a red pen in my hand.
I’ve been called a grammar Nazi, comma queen, punctuation princess, and a pain in the ass by friends and foes alike. I don’t care what they call me because, ironically, they call me when help is required in their attempts at wordsmithing. At least three times a week I get a text, email or phone call from a friend or acquaintance asking me the correct way to spell, punctuate or hyphenate something.
Writers don’t like being critiqued or corrected. But just because someone has something to say doesn’t mean they* say it well. The editor’s sole mission is to make the writer look better. It’s no skin off my back if a writer doesn’t know to punctuate around parentheses, when to use affect or effect, or the proper use of a semicolon. I point those things out in your draft so your writing will be readable, not to make you feel foolish or stupid. I’ll also tell you that you’ve confused your reader with your run-on sentences, used a word out of context, or are guilty of dangling a modifier. So, when you ask me to proof your work, expect me to be thorough (though politely so).
Because I want you to shine like a star.
A client of mine called me after reviewing the dissertation I edited for her. She was getting ready to submit it and asked if she could include me in the acknowledgement section. I told her that wasn’t necessary; editors are background people who are used to being invisible. She insisted, saying the paper would’ve been a mess without my help. Her draft of the acknowledgement page included a request that I check it for grammar and punctuation. Now there’s someone who values her editor.
My guess is this post includes an error or two or three. I know that because every writer needs an editor and/or proofreader. And for those of you who will be pointing my errors out to me, that will just prove my point. And I’ll be grateful you did.
I would be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to my friend, Christine H., who inspired this post, whether out loyalty to the cause or as just another way to yank this nitpicker's chain. Either is fine.
*Ahh, the singular they. Maybe I’ll discuss that in a future post. Maybe.
Anna Edmonds, The Author
Anna is an experienced editor with with expertise in a variety of editing styles. Read about her experiences, how 2 Red Pens can help you, and a other research and editing-related topics. Please comment and share! We love hearing from our readers!