from “Copyediting. Vital. Do It or Have It Done,” in Brevity’s Craft Essays, by Diana Hume George, author of The Lonely Other: A Woman Watching America and other books.

“In my capacity as a screener, I automatically reject any book or essay that does not honor the conventions. It doesn’t matter how good the content is. Editors won’t waste their time fixing matters that should have been attended to long before the writer sent it out as a professionally finished product. I use the analogy of carpentry. It’s as if an otherwise well-designed piece of woodwork had nails sticking out at odd angles.”

“Before any book of mine reaches an editor, it has been through at least half a Diana Georgedozen complete drafts. That’s a conservative estimate. When the manuscript is as error-free as I can get it, I have it copyedited by a fellow writer or by a professional. More errors always surface, to say nothing of previously unnoted clichés and repetitions of entire phrases from previous pages that have escaped my own revisions.”

“A final word about who copyedits your book or essay: don’t automatically trust an English professor or journalist or fellow writer. . . . English professors do not necessarily know squat about copyediting, beyond the level of correcting an essay or term paper. Whatever your choice, make sure you have reason to trust the person’s skills. Don’t trust anyone to be a foolproof proofreader until you see his or her skills in action. As for doing it all yourself, few writers ever get that good at it. Very few people can edit themselves successfully, because we literally cannot see our own mechanical errors or infelicities—and infelicities are as important as actual errors.”


  • John says:

    Great advice.

  • Tim Elhajj says:

    Maybe I’m just too much the rebel, but writing advice like this always makes me roll my eyes. It is helpful to get another pair of eyes on your work, and writers should endeavor to send out only the cleanest of manuscripts, but copy editing is no guarantee of publication, or even a better manuscript. I see bad sentences, clichés, and typos in published work all the time. Don’t we all? You can just as easily over edit your work, refining and massaging until anything good and heartfelt is completely lost (but no words on the same page are repeated!). Infelicities? I just don’t buy this argument at all.

Leave a Reply