So those last 30 pages? The ones that I blew through at twice my normal speed and found very few problems with? Have turned out to be absolutely FULL of issues. I don’t want to call them errors, because the problems I have found to correct on my second pass through that section were not wrong (in the sense of correctness) so much as simply…not right (aesthetically). And I haven’t even gotten all the way through them – I have done maybe 10 of the pages. Miles to go, yet; this edit might be 9 hours, after all, because the going has been much slower than my average this time around. (*blinks* What?! …. EXACTLY)
These disparate experiences of analyzing the same text have given me a heuristic knowledge of the common writer wisdom that “editing is subjective.”
Yes. Not all editing, mind. Some editing is rules-based and incontrovertible: spelling errors, dangling modifiers, unclear/absentee/improper antecedents, certain punctuation constructions, etc., are not going to change from one editor to another unless one of them is ignorant of the accepted rules of English. But the kind of editing that writers think of–the kind that points out, not errors, but places your text could be clearer, or more concise, or more precise, or less cliche? That kind of editing is absolutely subjective.
I don’t think y0u can get proof that is more empirical than the same person going over the same text on two different occasions, both of which occurred when the person was intimately knowledgeable of the text and thus could not be accused of finding problems only with greater familiarity, and getting two different results.
I think in the first case I was editing as a reader–did anything stick out at me as being wrong or bad or unclear or wordy? No? Then move along, nothing to see here. In the second case I have been reading as an editor and picking up the sorts of problems I found throughout the whole.
As a self-publishing writer, I think both hats are important, reader and editor. You have to be able to read your work as each–but at separate times.
Even if you hire someone to edit your words for you, you still need to be able to view your text as an editor, because there is no other way for you to evaluate what they are suggesting you change. No editor’s word should be gospel. Aesthetic editing is an art, not a science. It is the art of making you sound more like you than you can.