Finding the Positive in the Negative
People sometimes tell me that I can be a negative person. I think most editors are—the good ones, anyway. Think about it:
We work hard to analyze storylines, characters, and, of course, the little nitpicky stuff like hyphens, commas, and spelling errors.
We’re trained to spot teeny, tiny mistakes in documents that are often tens of thousands of words long. We’re paid to find the negative things and point them out so they can be fixed.
If all we saw was the beautiful prose and the gripping plot, and not the fact that you used the British spelling of the word center on page 143 even though you’re writing for an American audience, we’d be useless.
Good editors NEED to be negative in order to succeed in their work. And I’m a pretty good editor, if I do say so myself.
The problem is, it can be hard to keep that eagle-eyed negativity that makes me a good editor out of my normal, non-editing life. I find myself spotting mistakes pretty much everywhere I go:
I see the mismatched tones of black in my best friend’s outfit.
I note that the fish on the restaurant’s daily special is frozen, not fresh (despite the menu’s claims to the contrary).
I cringe when I see someone on the running track near my house, doing crazy stretches that threaten to snap a tendon with every inadvisable, overenergetic bounce.
I see problems EVERYWHERE.
Although I try to keep my mouth shut in general, there are times when I just have to say something. For example, when the “For Lease” sign above the empty grocery store reads “Space Availale” (missing that very important B), I can’t keep it to myself.
And because most businesses these days seem to have some serious problems with the spelling and grammar on their signs and promotional materials, I find myself getting a little snarky a little more often than I’d like (and don’t get me started on what I see in people’s social media posts—it’s like NOBODY remembers anything they learned back in first grade).
But I get it. It must be annoying having someone like me always pointing out errors—on Facebook, in menus, on signs, or on the headline scrolling at the bottom of the screen on the news channel (I’m looking at you, CNN!).
But the thing is, I’m actually NOT a negative person.
In fact, at the heart of things, I’m pretty sure the reason I so often point out all the bad stuff I see is because I’m the most positive kind of person there is: an optimist.
Maybe I tell the people around me when I see something wrong—in manuscripts AND in regular life—because I want others to see it. Maybe I’m hoping that they’ll be just as outraged as I am, especially by the big things—like corruption and injustice—and maybe they’ll join me to help fix it.
The truth is, it’s not just manuscripts that need editing. It’s our entire world.