If there’s a cliché image for our profession, it’s eyeglasses. Editors and librarians, it seems, should always have a pair handy, preferably hanging from a chain around the neck. We earn this image, as we earn our reputation, when we limit editing to what the eye sees. Editing is not just an eye thing. It’s also an ear thing and a brain thing.
In fact, we should read first with our eyes shut and our minds open, reading between the lines as well as behind the lines. Then, with our ears tuned for rhythm, style and tone — listening for the writer’s voice. And finally, after a pause that gives us fresh eyes, with our bifocals firmly planted where they can be of use to spot flaws such as typos, commonly misused words, faulty page numbers and so on.
When we rely too heavily on our eyes (or when the manuscript overwhelms our reading with visually distracting errors and inconsistencies), it is often difficult for us to “see” the meaning or hear the style of the text until it has been cleaned up. Just as writers must turn off their inner editor to write the first draft, editors must discipline themselves to turn off their visual editor — to read first for sound and sense.
Take music lessons. Read poetry. To engage your aural editor, try reading the text aloud.
Read Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize, edited by John Hollander.
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