That title caught your attention! If you’re a copyeditor, you’re probably laughing hysterically. If you’re a writer, you were probably hoping it was right.
So no, writing and copyediting are two different animals. Of course, there are those who can do both well, but that doesn’t hold true for everyone.
I started writing at an early age, but I didn’t start really copyediting until middle school. I played Academic Games, and Linguistics was my favorite game. I became quite good at noticing subjects, objects, prepositional phrases, adverbial clauses, gerunds, etc. The rules of grammar were fun!
So, what exactly is copyediting?
First, let me point out some important characteristics that can make or break your copyediting venture.
If you don’t know the difference between an adverb and an adjective, or you don’t know how to identify the object of a preposition, you might not want to call yourself a copyeditor.
If you use commas arbitrarily (maybe you write a sentence, close your eyes, and randomly put in commas), you’re not a copyeditor.
If you don’t notice commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and periods when you’re reading things, you might not be ready for copyediting.
Okay. Here’s a definition. According to the Chicago Manual of Style, copyediting involves both mechanical editing and substantive editing.
Mechanical editing requires a “close reading of the manuscript with an eye to such matters as consistency of capitalization, spelling, and hyphenation; agreement of verbs and subjects; punctuation; beginning and ending quotation marks and parentheses; numbers given a numerals or spelled out; and many similar details of style.”
It’s a very time-consuming, detailed task. Not for the faint of heart, and not for those who are easily bored.
In college, I copyedited my university’s daily newspaper. After a while, I couldn’t even read for fun. I found myself checking every letter and punctuation mark. It became a tedious chore. I’ve recovered now, but I don’t copyedit all the time anymore.
Substantive copyediting is slightly different, but is still an essential part of the process. “It involves rewriting, reorganizing, or suggesting other ways to present material.”
I think substantive copyediting is more of an art, whereas mechanical copyediting is an (almost) exact science (most rules of grammar are explicit).
If you’re up to the task of copyediting,Â you have to arm yourself with two essential tools: The Chicago Manual of Style, and the Harbrace College Handbook (I’ve added them to the side panel as well). If you’re copyediting for newspapers, use their style manuals…usually AP style.
Being a good copyeditor does not also mean that you’re a good writer. You may be good at fixing things for others, but writing from scratch may elude you. I’m lucky to be pretty good at both.
My preference? First, I like writing my own material. Second, I like mechanical copyediting. Substantive copyediting is only fun when I don’t have to deal with bad writing and arrogant authors.
What about you? I know a lot of my readers are writers (well, all of you, if you write a blog). And many of you write and edit for a living as well. What do you prefer? Writing for yourself, mechanical copyediting, or substantive copyediting?