There is a saying that good editing is invisible. Since my Zen-inspired musing on voice and how to find it, I’ve been wondering if editing is—or should be—inaudible too.
Just in case you missed it, my earlier article advised that the way to find your voice as a writer is to use it. However, looking at this from a writer’s viewpoint is only one part of the story. Editors have a perspective on voice too, although it is one that does not get discussed nearly as much.
In a simplistic definition, editing can be described as the art of tidying up a text to ensure its message is clear, concise and compelling. This includes consideration of the structure, content, style and syntax of the document, all of which involves working with the author’s voice. But before we get too concerned about this, let me assure you that it does not mean an editor’s job is to change that voice. In most cases, the opposite is true.
As an editor, I will not alter your voice unless you explicitly ask me to do so. I may make observations and offer suggestions about it, but these are always done in consultation with you. It could be that the tone you are using is too formal or informal for your intended audience, or perhaps there is a shift in the voice that has resulted from the many (many, many) different drafts you have penned. In such cases, I would alert you to the issue and offer suggestions for how to remedy it. We would work together to ensure that your voice is both appropriate and consistent for your purpose and audience.
How exactly this happens is part of the mysterious magic that is editing. The best way I can describe it is that an editor ‘tunes in’ to the voice in a manuscript, becoming conscious of its cadence and responsive to its rhythm.
Being attuned like this to the voice in a manuscript is an essential skill for editors. Without an awareness of how the voice sounds, it is difficult to make insightful recommendations or adjustments. Remember how I mentioned that good editing is invisible? This is because it amends a text without leaving any sign of the process involved. It takes expertise to achieve this and can only be done when an editor has an excellent sense of the author’s voice.
The changes an editor suggests to a text should blend in imperceptibly, appearing as if they were always supposed to be there. When reflecting on editing in terms of audibility, however, I’m not sure the same aim applies.
One way to think of it is that an editor lends a voice to the chorus that allows an author’s words to soar. By adding a few key notes and harmonising with you, your editor contributes to the overall artistry of your voice in terms of its fluency, sensitivity and melody.
Basically, editors make you sound better.
Yet while it may be vital to the final, shining version of your writing, an editor’s voice should never dominate. In this sense, editing is audible, but only just. Although its resonance may be there, the true voice—the one that sings distinctly and is heard most purely—is always and uniquely yours.
Have you had a harmonious relationship with an editor? How did that editor help to enhance your voice? What observations or advice do you have about working with voice for writers and editors alike?