ACADEMIC EDITING: Not Exactly Fairytale Territory

Miracles happen all the time. We’re here, aren’t we?

.:Marilyn Nelson:.

Poet | Translator | Children’s Book Author

Goldilocks was one of the rudest heroines ever.  I’ll give her privileged, little lost self this: Goldie had a formula for optimizing her life experience and she didn’t deviate from it.  The child worked a pattern of behavior.  In the end, she walked (okay ran) away having experienced perfect seating, satiation, and one of the best naps of her life.  In short, she got hers.

I liken the experience of being an optimal editor to the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but there are some critical deviations.  While my clients are the real heroines and heroes of my editing experiences - including the ones you will read on this blog - I feel no shame in identifying as the title human character. Since I’m taking a few pages from ole Goldie’s approach to personalized problem-solving, I’ll just refer to myself as Ms. Locks moving forward.  

Oh and unlike Rapunzel and Heidi's cousin, with her natural inquisitiveness and lack of home training, I am an invited interloper rather than a home invader.  I’m also far from lost. My editing clients - academics of color and those giving voice to the marginalized through their research - invite me into their written worlds.  Yet, I remain an interloper as these are their words and research and I won’t be taking any naps. I’m here to do some home improvement and be on my way so they can be on theirs. 

As opposed to the Gold One’s bears, my clients are aware that their houses (of words) are not completely in order. 


Some documents require a wee bit of tidying (just a dash of grammar adherence and correction of an occasional typo will do).  These Baby Bear clients find their copy just to the left or right of “perfect”.  My role is to provide tailored nudging. This means they receive light, yet lethal editing (if commas are their only or primary concern, I hunt them down and evaluate the purpose of each one). 


The Papa Bears are somewhere in the middle.   Basic editing is expected with leeway to bolster sentence structure, clarify meaning without changing content, and addressing word choice issues.  Papa Bears will have paragraphs of minor edits interspersed with ones that are so rearranged, they look as if they are wedded to Word’s Track Changes feature.


Finally, there are the Mama Bears.  Their work requires intensive and extensive editing that’s often of a structural nature and, at times, ropes in a bit of copywriting as requested.  These are clients with tough requests, but of course when Mama (Bear) is happy, everyone is happy. This sometimes warrants a huge overhaul – think interior decorating that involves internal or external scaffolding if necessary. Why not knock down a wall or paragraph if it best preserves the integrity of the house/document?  Every now and then, the house has to be demolished, while maintaining and strengthening its foundation.

This is not an exaggerated metaphor, though it is a tortured one.  Editing is a labor-intensive art because it molds itself to serving and elevating the truer, purer art of the written word.

As I serve these three bears, sometimes as one family unit on the same manuscript or document, I must be like Miss Gold Diggity and learn each client's house as I go.  This is comprised of two major elements:

1)   Understand and respect the needs and requests of the client. It doesn’t matter if someone asks for Baby Bear treatment when I feel he or she has Mama Bear issues.  That goes for the inverse as well.  They know their current or intended audience.  A Draft Supreme does not exist to spread my brand of writing, but rather to enhance and highlight the style, pattern, and delivery of writing of my clients.

2)   “Listen” to the client through reading and editing their work.  My approach is to grasp the voice of my clients by getting it firmly planted inside my head.  This voice can be seen and heard within the best verbiage, the most challenging of writing styles, and every caliber of text in between.  The end result is editing that honors an adaptation of the client’s writing style; it's authentic with the aim of being seamless. Not confusing this authenticity-based approach with false or forced imitation is what results my initial clients become repeat clients. 

In truth, my approach to editing is a partnership.

I’m tasked with being an efficient and effective silent partner.

An ally understands this and honors the role.

And then, when all is well enough for the client to continue on, the ally falls away while remaining on call.

Unlike Goldie, I manage a stellar job of disappearing if I do say so myself. 

Well-edited verbiage reads in the voice/tone of the author and doesn’t feel as if its been edited at all. 

It just reads as being well-written.  Of course, well written work is well edited work.

In the end, that’s the purest goal that I share with my clients; it’s what I want for their research throughout and far beyond the ivory tower. They want that and much, much more. They get it too. I’m honored to meet them at the pivotal (and exhausted) points of their long journey.

Real talk - I want them to get theirs.

It’s as close to a happily ever after as I get in this business.

I’m sure someone who reads this will wonder why the work requiring heavy lifting was assigned Mama Bear status rather than Papa Bear status or question why I didn’t take a more sympathetic view of Goldie as a little lost child that could have been “anyone”.

Answer: Understood and respected. However, this is my final draft of this post. It is what it is. Good day!