Back in the days when I was young(er) and (more) foolish, I imagined that a good writer did not need an editor. Perfection was a blend of individual natural talent and adequate time to get the story vision right.
There was some merit to that illusion, but it was also naïve as well as historically inaccurate. Plays, for instance, have always been a collaborative effort. Elizabethan playwrights worked together and stole shamelessly from each other. (For those who think Shakespeare didn’t write his plays: no, he didn’t completely nor did anyone else.) Homer might be considered an original talent with time to talk to Muses until we realize that he (or the collected poets now called Homer) took a bunch of ready myths, tossed the ones that didn’t fit, and sang the tales to fit whatever audience he (they) had. In both instances, a whole lot of editing was going on.
So editing is not new. What may be new is the current process called “manufacturing the product”, formerly known as “author’s effort to craft a good book”. With the increasing demands on a writer to do several works a year, blogs, tweets, articles, interviews, teaching, appearances for many reasons, organizational duties, Facebook entries, and forms of promotion I haven’t even heard about, editing has become obligatory no matter how much talent an author has. Time to let the mind drift is pretty much old-school, unless you have a writing cottage fifty miles outside Yellowknife in the Yukon.
Authors today are more prone to grammatical horrors, plot holes, character discrepancies, and just plain stupid mistakes than the Victorians. Nor is all of this due to relying on SpellCheck. Sadly, even the editors in publishing houses (a few exceptions duly noted) do even less editing. Their main job is marketing. Agents don’t have time either. (See prior sentence.)
So what’s an author to do? You have to do something.
Reading groups are a fine idea, as long as they hand you back an honestly annotated manuscript. A friend, spouse, perspicacious second cousin twice removed, or a hired editor are all possibilities. (Be careful of the latter and go only on reliable recommendation.) In any case, make sure the reader understands what you want to do in your work so they do not try to force your square peg into the proverbial. That isn’t helpful.
In return, you must swear not to curse the messenger and consider the observations fairly. Take a deep breath, reach for that bar of chocolate, and spend the five seconds a day still available for musing on the merits of that critique. After all, you write because you still think it is a craft, not a machine produced thing, and want to give the reader a work they will find pleasurable because it was well done.
And then there is line editing. I won’t even start…