I love(d) What Not to Wear (WNTW). Clinton Kelly’s and Stacey London’s abilities to make anyone look good was undeniable. I always hoped that one day I would just be walking down the street and suddenly be asked questions about my “style” by someone with a microphone and a cameraman, only to find out later that it was part of the secret footage that the WNTW crew had gathered about me.
Well, it didn’t happen, but you might expect, with as many episodes as I’ve seen of the show, I would have picked up some style wisdom and applied it to my own life. But nah, probably not as much as I like to think or as much as one might expect. I’m still the person saying, “Jeans just don’t fit me right,” so that’s why I prefer elastic pants.
Editor is to Writer as Fashion Consultant is to Person.
Clinton and Stacy typically consulted extreme cases of anti-fashion, but just because someone isn’t over-the-top passe doesn’t mean a few pointers are unwelcome or even unnecessary.
The job of an editor is to find and point out the mistakes of others. Sounds like fun, huh? Well, it is. But, the life of an editor is a lonely one – friendless, of course – because no one wants to be told that their work isn’t perfect.
As an editor and a writer, I feel my pain. When I edit the work of another, it’s easy to pick out grammatical, structural, and flow issues. And if I don’t understand something, I can simply ask – it will either show that something is missing or show my ignorance in the subject matter.
When I am the writer, I do edit my writing, but it’s always a good idea to send it through another set of eyes. I already know what I want to say and mean to say, so chances are, I won’t notice my own errors regardless of how many times I look at it. Actually, the more I look at it, the less likely I am to see my mistakes, as I only become more convinced of its perfection.
Dress it up
Most people don’t want to be told what to do, much less how to do it. Sometimes grammar rules conflict with a writer’s voice. Sometimes, errors are actually a style choice. The writer says it that way for a reason. And if you change it, you take away the writer’s voice. That is not the job of an editor.
The idea here is to follow the What Not to Wear methodology – keep the core of their style intact, but make it more presentable.
Just as with writing, editing requires questions. You have to understand what they are saying and why they are using a particular voice. Is this the way they normally speak? Are they writing to a specific audience who speaks this way? Does the topic itself require the writing to sound this way? Are grammar rules just not that interesting to them?
Use this information to make changes and to make suggestions. Some writers appreciate explanations, so they understand why this change should be made. Then they know how to take care of it the next time. BUT other writers couldn’t care less about the rules of grammar and just want it fixed. Know your author.
Wash and Cut
Buying new clothes was not the only step in the What Not to Wear makeover. Hair is just as important in creating a look as the clothes you choose. The hair stylist (Nick Arrojo and then Ted Gibson) would wash, cut, and style the “fashion victims’” hair to nearly complete the look.
Sometimes, often times, it is difficult for the writer to cut unnecessary parts of their writing because they see all of it as necessary. It may be more important to the writer than to the reader. One job of the editor then is to point out extraneous writing. When something is repeated, I say ax it. If there is information given that is not important to the story, delete.
I’ve cut parts of my own writing that I found clever or funny because no matter how great it was, it wasn’t pertinent to the plot, therefore, it would not have garnered the same affection from others as it did from me.
When that happens, when I really like something but know that I can’t use it there, I save it. There will be a time, a story, for which it will not only be usable but beneficial.
I’ve left parts that should have been cut in my writing. I could see that later but not while I had my nose in it. Now, after I write something, I let it sit for a while before coming back to it as the reader.
After you offer some new clothes and give it a good wash and cut, it’s time for “The Big Reveal!” Now they see what was incorrect and what changes are possible. It’s up to the writer to decide if they want to accept this improved work or whether they want to stick with what they had.
The editor must remain detached. This is the work of the writer, for the purpose of the writer. The job of the editor is merely to point out inconsistencies and errors and offer suggestions for improvement.
Clinton and Stacy couldn’t make anyone maintain their style after they left the show, and many didn’t.
Style is unique. While there are always similarities and even copies, the original is not completely duplicated. This is also true with editing, so an editor does not edit two writers in the same way nor different works by the same writer in the same way.