Getting cocky with copy

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Every teacher I’ve had for as long as I can remember has made it a point to impress upon the class that writing is a multi-step process: start with prewriting and outlining, finish with revision and, last but certainly not least, proofread.

Even before I became a copy editor, I never found proofreading to be the tedious, annoying ordeal it is for many writers. For me, the proofreading step offers a rare moment of solace in the stressful process of writing. It allows me to use my naturally objective mind and apply a set of clear-cut rules to improve something as subjective as an essay.

Being a copy editor, then, is the ideal job for me. It allows me to take pieces already written by extremely skilled writers and use my own skillset to make them just a bit more perfect. It’s really a win-win: It allows me to isolate my favorite part of the writing process without having to worry about actually writing anything.

But in my own work, I am the absolute worst when it comes to taking that step of the process seriously. If I’ve written something important, I might give it a once-over to see if I’ve made any obvious grammatical errors, but for a short, unimportant class assignment, I’m very likely just going to click “submit” as soon as I type the last word.

It’s not that I don’t like proofreading my own work or that I find the process particularly difficult or tedious. I’m just overly sure of myself. After all, I eat, live and breathe grammar. How could I possibly make an error?

And though this is sometimes true — while I have an innate tendency to, for example, check my antecedent agreements as I write instead of afterward — mistakes still happen pretty frequently in my writing. Stupid ones, too, such as omissions of periods at the ends of sentences.

This very post, in fact, will be looked over by my editor (yes, I know it’s meta, but someone does copy edit the posts that are written by copy editors about copy editing), and I’m sure she’ll find a good few mistakes.

When I pridefully submit a paper without proofreading it, I refuse to acknowledge what I’ve been told my entire life: that writing and editing are two different processes that exercise completely different capacities of the brain. Writing involves organizing abstract thoughts into words; editing involves tidying up those words so they’re up to par with standards.

So I guess those stupid flow chart posters in junior high were right: Writing really is a multi-step process, and even people who spend much of their free time proofreading can’t really afford to take that step for granted.

And now that I’m done writing this piece, I’ll click “submit” and be on my merry way.

Contact Nick Schwartz at [email protected].

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