5 Reasons Why You Need an Editor

This blog post was originally featured as a guest post on the blog for Heritage Press Publications on April 2, 2014.

When working on a novel, thesis, or even a blog post, it might be tempting to cut out the middle man and skip straight to the publishing process. However, trying to edit your own work—or getting a friend to casually do it for you—can seriously cost you in the long run. Even the smallest mistake can harm your credibility. The wrong word choice can result in offensive ambiguity. Remember, once something is published, it is permanent, even if it’s only online. What you write is a reflection of your intelligence and dedication. An editor can help you make that reflection as flattering as possible.

Here are five reasons why every writer needs an editor: 

1. It’s important to show your work to a handful of trusted people who won’t judge you before showing it to millions who will.

Don’t believe me? Check out the comment sections on popular blogs or, if you’re writing a book, the review sections on Amazon.com. There will always be harsh critics out there, but there’s no reason to show them your first draft. If you are formally and professionally publishing something, your name will be affected by how your work is received. It is always worth the time and effort to get a set of professional eyes to scour your work for mistakes and points to improve. Part of an editor’s job is to protect your reputation and credibility.

2. We know what you’re trying to say, and we’ll help you say it.

Do you have a close friend who always finishes your sentences? For me, it’s my husband. If I’m stumbling over my words or repeating myself trying to convey an idea, he’ll jump in for me and give me the right words. Editors can do that for you. We can tell if you’re struggling to express a thought or dancing around a difficult subject. We’re here for you, and we will help you iron out all those wrinkles so your true emotions can shine through.

3. Microsoft Word doesn’t catch all mistakes.

If you are trusting the magical squiggly lines to catch everything, you will be sorely disappointed. While I know Microsoft Word and other word processing programs have developed great spelling and grammar checking software, it’s not nearly as effective as a human brain going over your work. According to a recent article published in The Telegraph, the world’s largest supercomputer still takes forty minutes to accomplish what the human brain can do in one second.

Although word processors are getting more accurate, they can never replace an editor. Take a look at the following screenshot.

Although Word caught a few mistakes in this draft, it did not prompt the author to correct:

  • Malapropism (interchanging similar-sounding words like “from” and “form”). These are easy typos to make and are difficult to catch. One slip of the finger on the keyboard can quickly turn “quite” into “quiet.”
  • Verb Mix-Ups (lie vs. lay).
  • Homophone Mix-Ups (their vs. they’re).
  • Sudden Verb Tense Changes.
  • Formatting Issues.
  • Missing Commas.

All of these mistakes would have been caught by a good editor.

4. Editors provide motivation to be your best and finish what you’ve started.

When you’re paying someone to edit your work and they’re depending on your next installment to help pay the bills, they will find a way to get you motivated! Having someone working for you and keeping you accountable to your schedule is invaluable.

5. Criticism makes you better.

It’s good for you, as a writer and as a human being. Gracefully accepting constructive criticism is a useful skill in any area of life. We can all improve ourselves in some way, and working with an editor is a great way to improve the way you write. A good editor will also teach you how to make fewer mistakes in the future. Working with an editor will give you the confidence to find your own voice and effectively communicate your ideas to others.

Lying is Wrong, Unless It’s Right: Cleaning Up the “Lie vs. Lay” Mess

That’s my dog, Sadie, lying asleep on our guest bed. Or is she laying on the bed?

I was editing a story the other day for my friend Hanne over at Heritage Press Publications for the new National Association of Christian Women Entrepreneurs (NACWE) book, Rock Bottom is a Beautiful Place. There I was, chugging along tracking changes in bright colors on the Word document, when I ran into a puzzle. One of the writers included a sentence similar to the following sentence in her story:

“I began feeling dizzy and couldn’t get back up when I lay down.”

It just didn’t sound right. It didn’t feel right. Shouldn’t it be “layed down,” or “laid down,” or even “lied down”? Surely “lay down” can’t be the past tense of “lie down,” right? My editor senses were tingling.

I turned to one of my favorite quick reference books, The Grouchy Grammarian: A How-Not-To Guide to the 47 Most Common Mistakes in English Made by Journalists, Broadcasters, and Others Who Should Know Better by Thomas Parrish. There it was in chapter 25: Lie vs. Lay. Mr. Parrish wasted no time proving me completely and utterly wrong. I guess I’m one of the ones who should know better.

It made me uncomfortable that this “common mistake” had floated under my radar for so long. How many occurrences had I missed while editing over the years? The grammar checker in Microsoft Word is usually pretty good about picking up on it, but it doesn’t always catch it.

For example, the following sentences are deemed acceptable by Microsoft Word:

“The artist proudly gestures to her sketches laying on the table.”

“The kindergartner lays on the floor during naptime.”

“Each soldier lied down his weapon during the peace negotiations.”

Guess what? All of those sentences are wrong! The only mistake Word seems upset about is this one:

“I layed down between the cold sheets, praying for a restful night’s sleep.”

It only notices this mistake because “layed” is not a word.

Confused? This is something most children learn in elementary school and promptly forget a year later. It’s a mistake high school English teachers and college professors drill into students’ heads. When students graduate and aren’t students anymore, it’s easier to pretend there isn’t a difference between lie and lay and use them interchangeably. However, if you want to be a successful writer, don’t mix these up, even when it doesn’t feel right. It only feels “wrong” because people have been making the mistake for so long and so often.

Let’s start at the beginning: to lie and to lay are two completely different verbs.

Lie comes from the Old English word licgan, which means “to be situated, to remain; to be at rest, lie down.”

Lie is an action. It is something you do. It’s an intransitive verb, which means it stands alone as an action and doesn’t need a complementizer.

Here is the conjugation for to lie:

Examples:

During our game of hide-and-go seek last night, I lay silently under the bed and no one found me.

I need to lie down because I’m feeling dizzy.

She had lain awake for thirty minutes before her alarm went off.

They are lying in the grass by the playground.

The phone lies motionless on the table.

Lay comes from the Old English word lecgan, which means “to place on the ground (or other surface).” Notice how similar the words licgan and lecgan are. It seems like our confusion dates back centuries.

Lay is an action unto something else. It’s a transitive verb, which means it always requires a direct object. You always lay something. Think of the verb to want. That’s a transitive verb because you can’t simply want; you have to want something.

Here’s the conjugation for to lay:

Examples:

When the exam was over, I laid down my pencil and breathed a sigh of relief.

She will lay her keys on the kitchen counter for you to find later.

Although Marcie and Joan had laid their backpacks by the back door after school, they were gone when they returned.

Please don’t walk through the kitchen; we are laying new tile and the grout is still wet.

You were laying a note on her pillow when she suddenly woke up.

Here’s an example of using both lie and lay in the same sentence:

As Paul was lying on the couch, Carrie laid his lunch on the table beside him.

As you can tell, our main problem comes with the present tense of to lay (lay) and the past tense of to lie (lay). They’re spelled the same and pronounced the same. How are we supposed to know the difference? No wonder we get confused. No wonder people change the past tense of lie (recline) to match the past tense of lie (fib). To keep them straight, it really comes down to memory.

Lie, lay, will lie, have lain.

Lay, laid, will lay, have laid.

It’s confusing, but that’s the English language for you.

As Bill Nye the Science Guy says…

Why should you care about such a trivial difference? That part is up to you. The more you care about how you write, the more professional and intelligent you will sound on paper. Little mistakes like these are obvious and add up quickly.

I’ve always believed that writing should be as polished as possible for three reasons:

  1. Writing is permanent. Once something is sent through an email or letter, posted online, or handed over to someone else, there’s no erasing it. It’s out there. With the exception, perhaps, of recordings, writing is much more permanent that speech. It can be read over and over, critiqued again and again. There’s a reason why, centuries later, we remember what Shakespeare wrote but little of what he said. In fact, we only remember famous quotes of his because someone else took the time to write them down.
  2. Writing is a representation of your mind. Do you want to make a strong impression on others? Write intelligently. Well-crafted writing demands respect.
  3. Writing presents the rare opportunity to edit yourself. When speaking, you can’t go back and say, “What I meant was…” or “This sentence would probably sound better if I said it like this…” Well, I suppose you could, but it would be very socially awkward. When writing, you can always go back and improve what you’ve said before anyone gets a chance to read it. Why not seize that opportunity?