What are you writing? I can help you write “gooder English.” That’s the phrase I stole from the Spanish-American performer Charo for engineers who were writing user-hostile computer manuals. I’d just pat the guys on the knee and say, “I can help you make that make sense. Let’s go for gooder English.” The “gooder” makes my authors laugh.
When I edit, one thing you pay me for is to keep track of things for you. Pesky details. I keep track of your characters’ names, what they’re wearing, if they actually came into the room before they start speaking. Because I have a very good education, I usually know if an event is historically accurate or plausible. If a novel is set in Bethlehem in the Roman colony of Judea during the week when Jesus was born, for example, the owners of the inn where there was no room would not have been a nice friendly German couple, nor would there have been a Hungarian witch in those Judean hills. Likewise, there were no debutantes in the Ice Age or even in medieval courts. It’s highly unlikely that anyone in Scotland was reading Plato during the Dark Ages. I am forever looking up dates and the proper spelling of famous names and correcting historical, cultural, and geographical references. The French Revolution did not occur in the 17th century. The Pyramids of Egypt are north of the equator. A character in a novel is highly unlikely to make a gift of fifty percent of the stock of General Motors to another character. Successful female executives do not generally spend all their time mooning over some guy they met on the beach. (Well, maybe they do, but not if they want to continue being successful. It depends on where your plot is going.) I’ve even been known to take my Bibles (yes, plural) off the shelf and double-check chapter and verse, not only the accuracy of the citations but also what Jesus or a prophet actually said.
Thanks also to my education, if you’re writing nonfiction I can follow logical arguments and see where they’re going. I can spot leaps of logic, holes in arguments, unsafe generalizations, and unsupported conclusions. I often highlight jargon and clichés, which are drone writing and thought substitutes. I’ll often write MEANING?after a sentence or paragraph I don’t understand and then offer my best guess. Sometimes I guess right, but I want the author—you—to get it right. Sometimes I also ask provoking questions, sometimes I ask you to do more research. You can accept the changes I make or not, but this is the kind of work you’re paying me to do.
Nobody wants to be embarrassed in print. What this means is that I have a pretty finely tuned BS meter. When I come to a sentence that’s nearly incomprehensible or see that an argument is going into indefensible territory, I’ll call your attention to it and ask for clarification. I’m forever reminding my authors remember that our readers don’t live in our heads with us. We need to explain stuff.