I was born to be an editor. I instinctively edit all the time.
Early on, I was fascinated by the spoken–and later written–word. My first language was Hungarian, and I believe its complexities shaped my thinking and perception. My father loved words and I loved to hear him play with their sound and meaning. Early on I was sensitive to the way people spoke, but I didn’t yet know why one sentence sounded better than another.
I learned English in the first grade and taught myself to read. After that I was off and running. I scrutinized every word in my books. My tolerance for mistakes was low. The words before me had to be perfect. I simply couldn’t tolerate language errors, and I went as far as correcting the mistakes in letters I received from friends and family and sending them back with my reply. (While my behavior didn’t enhance my popularity, it did reinforce my sense of “rightness.”)
In college the study of linguistics changed my thinking and increased my tolerance. My professor pointed out that grammar and punctuation were arbitrary, subject more to social than academic rules. At one time words were spelled in many different ways, according to the whims of the writer. The study of grammar as we know it has not been around all that long. There is no irrefutable language arbiter who has the final say on the written and spoken word. Rules follow users, not the other way around.
That said, there are rules, especially in the world of publishing. The academic world has codified some basic grammar and punctuation and syntactic rules that must be followed if one’s writing is to be taken seriously.
I have internalized these rules. Moreover, I have an ear that is tuned to the sound of language. Words may be technically correct but sound awkward to the ear. I have the ability to smooth out the bumps, allowing the text to flow effortlessly.
With my help, you’ll have the power to shape the world.
~Elizabeth Simons, writer and editor