"Why I Edit" by Robert Schmidt

People occasionally ask me why I work as an editor. It’s obviously not a glamorous job. It’s not an “in the spotlight” job. In fact, if I do my job right, no one will ever know I was there—kind of like a fine art restorer, or a make-up artist.

They want to know if it means that I actually want to be a writer (I guess this comes from all those actors who say what they really want to do is direct). They want to know how I can sit in front of a computer for eight hours every day (as if every other office worker doesn’t do the same thing). And they want to know what I get out of it.

Over time, I’ve come up with the three top reasons why I edit, and so I thought I’d share them in case you were wondering, too. 

  1. I have always enjoyed helping people to bring out the best in themselves and—by extension—their writing. Think of it as coaching a gymnast to a perfect score, or coaxing the perfect aria out of a singer. The excitement of watching the potential bloom is intoxicating. No athlete would ever try for the Olympics without a coach, so why do so many authors decide to work without an editor? I have no idea.

  2. I’m not a ghostwriter, but I do enjoy getting my hands dirty from time to time. While working with authors’ manuscripts, I am studying their style, form, mood, grammar, rhetoric, and all of those elements that create a manuscript. Not only am I studying them, but I’m practicing them. My job is to make the author sound more like the author, not less. Yes, I’m working to make every manuscript “correct” (from the title page to the endnotes, there are rules for everything) but even more I’m trying to make it match the author’s style. That’s a fine line, and I love walking it. 

  3. I’m a bit of a grammar geek. I love words. I like the way they sound and the way they look on the page. I enjoy following a well-constructed sentence as it leads you exactly where it wants you to go. I also get a kind of sinister glee out of finding a misplaced period or a random extra space at the start of a line and fixing it. I am not, however, a grammar stickler. As I mentioned in #2, although I believe every editor wants to make every manuscript “correct,” I also see a need to make sure that the author’s style comes through, and sometimes that means the rules get... bent... just a bit. I won’t break any laws of grammatical nature without a fight, though.*

Overall, I think it’s a pretty cool job. I get to help authors achieve the goals they’ve been working toward—sometimes for their whole lives. Being trusted with that kind of responsibility is pretty cool.

And, okay, I get to read books for a living. How great is that?

*Oh - to answer the question that everyone asks: No. I don’t correct people’s grammar when they’re talking, in their emails, or on social media. (If I’m not on the clock, you’re on your own.)

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