No doubt you’ve heard the lament. Whether in school, the office, or an internet chat, someone is sure to complain that they don’t need to edit what they write because you understand their intent anyway. Usually, this happens right after you oh-so-helpfully explain the difference between “affect” and “effect” during an online discussion of last night’s thrilling political debate.
And you know what? Your exasperated friend is right. If your only purpose is to get across some basic meaning through text, there’s no need to edit your words. “I hungry,” “Me hungry,” “Am hunger,” “hungry I am” – all of these get across the basic point that the speaker would really appreciate a sandwich right about now. But (and this is the key point here) they do so inefficiently and inelegantly.
Editing is like make-up. The paradoxical goal of cosmetics is to make it look like you aren’t wearing any at all. If applied right, you’re not paying any attention to eyeshadow or blush, just the beautiful face in front of you subtly enhanced by a couple of carefully applied commas. Applied wrong, and you’re gonna have trouble appreciating that natural prose when you can’t tear your eyes away from a bad semi-colon choice.
Good editing takes the text that’s already there and artfully smoothes sentence structure, covers up errors, and highlights your true meaning. Sometimes you only need a little to achieve the effect you want, sometimes you need a lot. Sometimes you’re blessed with prose that doesn’t need any editing at all. Sometimes you want to make a poetical statement, calling attention to an on-point clause with bold color and gloss.
Do you need to edit every word you write? No. You don’t need to wear make-up every day either. But if you’re about to hit the catwalk or try and impress an important client, it’s important to put your best foot forward, keep the focus on your content, and look great while you do it. Good editing will make that happen.