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The Devil in the Details: Why I Edit


I’ve already told you why I write (if you haven’t read that post, you can find it here). But the reasons why I proofread and edit are more complicated.

My husband feels the need to straighten all the furniture in our house and keep everything in impeccable order: neat, clean, and everything-in-its-place. His workshop is amazing. I can find anything I need because it’s all neatly labeled and filed exactly where it should be. This, sadly, is a strength which I do not share.

When it comes to personal space, I create disorder all around me. Most of the time, my office has piles of papers, books, and random stuff all over every available surface, including much of the floor. When I travel, it looks like my suitcase has exploded across the hotel room. Ask anyone who has ever worked in an office with me: my environment is a mess. I choose to believe this is a sign of my superior intelligence, of course. But for my husband, my chaos is almost physically painful. He has a mild form of OCD centered around orderliness.

OCD describes how I feel about spelling, punctuation, and grammar. It's like a devil sitting on my shoulder, sticking a pitchfork into my ear every time I see an error. I've come to grips with the fact that I’m an obsessive compulsive editor. I feel compelled to edit, even when I’m the only person who notices or cares. Fortunately or unfortunately for me, I’m a fast reader and a very good editor. Mistakes that other people don’t notice seem to leap off the pages at me and hit me like a migraine. Even if I’m skimming content, my brain will register a typo and it stops me cold. I saw a coffee shop with the slogan "Come Taste the Aroma" last week and almost had a meltdown.

I submit edits every time I read a book on Kindle. And it’s very rare indeed for me to get through a book without finding at least one error. In hard copy books I just mentally note the error and stew over it – both the annoyance that it’s there, and the annoyance that I can’t fix it. I verbally correct restaurant menus. If they are disposable paper-printed menus, sometimes I even redline them. I point out errors on signs to anyone within hearing distance. I call out errors in articles that people post links to on their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds. I can’t not, because they bother me so much.

Being introspective, I’ve tried to figure out the root cause of this compulsion. What I came up with was that by nature, I’m a fixer. Some of the things that have made me successful in my business career are the abilities to figure out how to get things done, how to improve processes, and how to solve problems. For me, the typos, poor grammar, misplaced commas, misspellings, and plain old poor writing register as things that are broken – so of course I want to fix them. My devil is just a fallen angel, after all.

Many people find my constant carping obnoxious (my husband included). I’ve tried to dial back. I no longer correct friends’ text messages or personal emails or Facebook least most of the time. The up side is that my friends all know who to go to when they want a second set of eyes on a website, a document, or an email. And it’s brought me some business, too.

Even many of the best writers aren’t great editors, copy editors, or proofreaders, so there’s definitely a market and a need for the editing services that I feel compelled to provide. If you’re texting, go ahead and abbreviate “your” as “ur” (although it will make me shudder). No need to care about spelling errors if you’re just emailing a friend. But for public-facing materials, the details matter – and I (and my devil) would be happy to help you out!

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