As a few of you know, my start as an author didn’t come in this blog, but on Wattpad, where I wrote the first draft of Hawtness and Wattpad 101, a writing self-help guide that is still popular to this day. Every once in a while, I adapt one of my essays from Wattpad 101 and bring it to my blog, making the advice more general, fixing some grammar/spelling, and otherwise refreshing the narrative I started. This is one such post.
There is a common phenomenon in writing which I like to call microediting. Microediting is the act of making a comment to correct a single mistake (or handful) in a post/chapter/book you read. At worst, it’s usually considered harmless, and at best, authors are deeply appreciative for having you correct their grammar and ensure their story is in its optimal shape.
So… it should be no surprise to anyone here that I dislike microediting and find it extremely irritating. If I want someone to edit my work, I hire an editor. If I want someone to comment on my work, a microedit is a poor substitute for a comment.
Don’t get me wrong, I get it. I’m not looking down on people who like microedits. I understand that it can be frustrating to get an editor, and you can only truly learn from your mistakes after realizing you’ve made mistakes in the first place. However, as challenging as it is for young writers to get someone to properly edit their work, I still typically frown at the use of microediting across the board. When someone gives me a microedit, I’m annoyed, and when I see other people get microedits, well, I’m still annoyed.
This got me reflecting on the reason why I had these feelings. Is this just me being unhappy at having my grammar questioned? Am I letting my own insecurities come into play when I get aggravated over the harmless “microedit”? Thus, I thought about this for some time, and here are the answers I have come up with. As I’ve said before, these are opinions and are not necessarily right. You may agree with my reasoning, or vehemently disagree. However, I’ve stated my disdain for microedits many times, and I feel it’s important for readers to get where I’m coming from. Since lists have always done me well in the past, here are five reasons I am against microediting.
Micro Editing Encourages Lazy Writing and Doesn’t Help Authors Improve
I feel like there are two kinds of writers in the world, writers who have a good grasp on the English language and writers who don’t. For those who don’t, there is no easy answer or quick fix. You simply must practice a lot, read a lot, and tweak your own writing a lot until you finally develop a style of your own and recognize the mistakes you’ve made. That said, I don’t feel personally that microedits are a means of achieving this goal.
For those who have a good grasp on the English language, microedits aren’t going to help them improve. The mistakes were almost certainly an oversight and not a misunderstanding of how grammar works. For some, simply pointing out the mistakes in an incomplete draft can be frustrating, since they’re mistakes you were bound to fix, and when you tell someone to do something they already planned to do, it can feel more like nagging than helping.
Mind you, any time I have argued against microedits, I’ve also totally endorsed correcting large, broad, or consistent mistakes. If a certain writing always uses a period instead of a comma after a dialogue tag, I think it’s very fair to comment on it and encourage the reader to fix it. don’t consider these kinds of critics and comments bad, nor are they what I call microedits. What I consider a microedit is mentioning a mistake which only appears once or twice… in what is clearly a typo and not some grammatical flaw the writer must desperately repair. I’d also not include fixing mistakes that lead to genuine confusion, like something that changes a sentence to meaning something elsewhere the authors intent wasn’t pretty darn obvious.
For those who murder the English language and have a very poor understanding of words, I feel the microedits will only hinder, not help, their development as a writer. The reason for this comes in two-fold. The first is that an author who is regularly microedited will become complacent in receiving those edits. Soon, they come to expect their commenters to iron out their chapters and fix them for them. Why spend extra time editing your own work when the comments will do it and you just have to go back and make the fixes?
Why is growing complacent and lazy a big deal? Because it leads to an even greater problem, making assumptions about your writing. I’ve seen commenters “microedit” works that are fundamentally broken. When you want to correct a chapter, and you only pick out a handful of the things you noticed, you’re indirectly telling the writer that those are the only things wrong with their story. If all you can say about my story is that I needed to put a comma here instead of an ellipsis, then my assumption is that the rest of my story was great outside of that grammatical mistake.
Worst, I could assume that you, who are only microediting, looked through the document and are telling me all the mistakes you caught. Thus, I feel like after I fix those mistakes, my writing is now grammatically sound. After all, all the edits were fixed, what else is there to do? This is something I’ve seen happen, so I’m not just making up situations here. I’ve seen people who’ve written stories where every sentence was fundamentally broken. Their sentence structure was a complete mess… but they had NO idea, because the only thing “commenters” ever did was microedit, pointing out mistakes that sidestep the most important and fundamental issues with the chapter.
So, if microediting won’t benefit those that have mastery of grammar and it won’t benefit those who aren’t good with grammar, does it benefit anyone? Grammar Nazis. That’s about it. It’s an act that caters to Grammar Nazis. I’m not saying microedits won’t help refine a work, heck, there are one or two times when microediting can even be advantageous, such as while a book is in beta right before launch. At that point, catching an edit or two missed by the editor and writer can be quite good. However, overall, I still frown on it, and I have a couple more reasons why.
Microedits Disrupts Drafting and Lowers Feelings of Accomplishment
For most authors, there is a specific order to how they correct things. This order is called drafting, something you guys have been doing in school forever. You start with a rough draft, and from there you move on up to first drafts and second drafts and final drafts. This is the “way” most people end up completing a work. Our stories are, often, in progress, and our final work, often, does not reflect what we’re sharing with you right now.
The go-to assumption with microedits is that once you’ve got one, you run and fix all the mistakes mentioned. The problem becomes that if you build up enough microedits, then the work you have online doesn’t reflect the manuscript you have on your desktop. Furthermore, it blurs the line between drafts, and since you’re making these constant corrections, when you finally release the next draft, the ultimate effect is considerably less meaningful.
Microedits seem to discourage drafting at best and create works that are in a perpetual state of incremental updates at worst. This is certainly a consumer-friendly model, allowing new readers to always see the most up-to-date fixes. However, I’m not talking from the point of view of what readers like the most, I’m talking from the point of view of what is needed to get a completed product and get the most of writers (what readers should want the most).
This sort of incremental updating does affect other industries. Have you ever heard of steam early access? It’s a great little program that lets you sell your game before you finish your game. It pushes developers to rather than release a final product, instead release an alpha build, then a beta build, and then a final build, to continually push microupdates and patches. When the final product is finished, many gamers already find themselves burnt out on it, and the release is often underwhelming. I’m not saying early access is bad… but, you know… the early access “graduates” are much much fewer than the perma-early access games. People who choose this method rarely finish the project they start, and while I know there are other factors involved (like how popular the early access is), I feel that this push to micro update cheapens the final move to a newer, better draft.
And some of you might already be screaming at your computer screen that this is the writer’s problem and as a commenter, you have no responsibility to do anything other than what you feel like. You’re welcome to feel that way, and you’re not wrong. You don’t have to care at all. Sure, one might ask, if you don’t care, why are you micro editing at all, but let’s just assume you’re doing it for you. My last chapter Commenting 101 spent a good amount of time trying to tell you why you SHOULD care, and based on the some of the comments I received, I know I failed to convince some. This is just explaining the reasoning behind why I don’t like microedits and continue to argue they should be kept out of comments. If you agree, stop using them, and if you don’t, no one is taking your microedits away from you.
Microedits Introduce Errors and Wastes Time
One of the biggest problems with a micro edit is that it means you have to go back into your manuscript, peruse through your latest edit to find the mistake, and then correct that mistake before instantly clicking publish. I mentioned before that this sort of editing immediately creates a disconnect between the manuscript you keep on your desktop and the manuscript you have online. That is unless you then proceed to go into your last edit of the manuscript, also find those words, and then fix them again.
This invites a lot of time for mistakes to be made. I know, I know… if you were being careful, then you wouldn’t be introducing mistakes while attempting to perform a microedit. Let us ignore the fact that if you were careful and were able to avoid all grammar mistakes, you wouldn’t be receiving a microedit in the first place!
However, sometimes the errors introduced aren’t your fault at all. Back when I used to post Arifureta, the WordPress used to have a nasty habit of, whenever I corrected a word in a specific way, WordPress would copy the entire sentence and create a duplicate. It would NOT do this copy until immediately before I clicked the post button. Yeah… it’s weird. I can’t tell you why the heck my blog posting software kept creating duplications, but it happened. It’s something that uniquely happened only when I tried to micro edit. If I edited in word, and copy and pasted everything, it was not a problem. Yet still, I microedited and ended up removing minor errors no one notices only to introduce big errors that definitely broke the flow of my story.
Then, you’ll argue, all a writer has to do is only make edits in one document, and then copy and paste the whole thing every time there is a microedit! I’d say that this is pretty time consuming, and also runs the risk of introducing other editing and formatting errors, from simply not managing to highlight the whole text and losing the last sentence or paragraph, to random formatting things I’ve mentioned in my chapter formatting foibles.
Plus… you always run the risk by deleting and copying your text that it wipes away all your line specific comments. They’ll still be there, but the line they were attached to gets lost if you make edits to the line. It shouldn’t delete them… but you never know.
Another big problem with the microedit is that it’s time-consuming. Imagine over the course of a week after releasing your chapter, getting six microedits. That’s six times you need to make the edit in your manuscript, click into the editor, and copy and paste it. It’s tedious and it’s wasteful, and it doesn’t take advantage of one of the best tools in your arsenal… the search tool.
A lot of mistakes you’re like to make can be fixed quite easily. If you’re commonly confusing there, their and they’re, simply using your words search platform for those three and then comparing them down the list is all you need. And to be honest, this is a lot faster than if you. I’ve actually explained this trick in some of my previous grammar editing chapters.
Need an example of how it is faster? Let’s imagine you made this mistake three times in a chapter. Not a big mistake, but enough that a commenter caught it and mentioned a microedit. So, you have this mistake, you go in manually and fix it, only for someone else to catch the next one. Now you go in and have to do it again. Already, you’re putting more effort in than if you just did a new draft.
Here’s where a microedit can become damaging to your work. Let’s imagine the third one never gets caught because it was shoved between a complex sentence and was in an entertaining part of the story and no one notices it enough. So, you have this one mistake, a mistake you appear to commonly make, but because you fixed the first two with microedits, you don’t even know this is a trend when you go to officially edited it. Your grammar mistake never gets fixed. Going back to my first point, you also won’t notice a trend of consistent mistakes when all of your stuff is microedited, with anywhere between a day and a month between when someone catches and bothers to comment on your mistake, how could you possibly identify a weakness in your writing?
Do you get where I’m going with this?
MicroEdits Cheapen The Value Of Comments and Critiques
Right off the bat, I’ll say that I totally understand the fundamental flaw in my logic here. It’s the same kind of flawed logic that treats every pirated game as a lost sale. It’s the same kind of logic that make children wonder who their parent loves more. It’s the assumption that everything is a zero-sum game. It assumes things are a finite resource. Your parent’s love isn’t a finite number split among a bunch of people. Many pirates don’t necessarily plan to ever buy many of the games they download illegally. And just because a commenter chooses to focus on microedits, this doesn’t mean he might not offer more meaningful comments after… or that he would have commented at all had he not performed said microedit.
In fact, you could go so far as to argue that my desire to remove microedits shoots you in the foot. Since comments are all equal, it doesn’t matter to most website’s discovery system that the last comment you got was a micro edit, encouragement, or feedback. In this sense, someone is likely to post 5-6 Microedits throughout a chapter where, if asked to do a critique or provide feedback, might only provide 1-2 comments. Thus, in a system where your work is microedited, you get discovered easier.
However, even knowing that, I can’t say that I’m a fan of microedits, because most people who microedit do NOT follow it up with a meaningful comment. What they do instead is substitute it. Microedits aren’t a zero-sum game, but the number comes pretty close, I think. This is especially true for critiques. I’ve met a few who only microedit, offering basically nothing in the ways of a true critique. If I want information like how good my story is, I just don’t see being microedited as something that helps me.
Taken to the extreme, you can have an author leave intentional errors. Their are people out there who won’t be able to prevent themselves from commenting if you slip in a little mistake like the one in this sentence. Look at that thing. It’s taunting you, isn’t it? Go ahead… do it… give me that sweet sweet comment, I know you can’t help yourself.
However, even if you left me that comment, and even if I fixed that mistake… has it really made a difference? Anyone who is an author, how do you feel when you receive a microedit? Thankful? Maybe you are… however, do you feel excited? Do you feel motivated to write? Do you feel like you’ve learned something fundamental to becoming a better writer? I don’t think that’s true in 9/10 cases. And while the commenters here who didn’t agree with my chapter Commenting 101 might be saying “Why do I care if the author writing the work I enjoy feels good or motivated to write?” I could respond just as easily “If you don’t care, why did you correct his grammar in the first place?” Or I could shoot back, “Because you read his work and presumably want to read more”.
Microediting is impersonal and Leaves No Room for Developing Reader/Writer Relationships
I write these essay chapters as much for myself as I do it for you. It allows me to vocalize thoughts that might have been disorganized and floating in my head. It gives me the chance to challenge my own misconceptions, and listen to criticism for some of the arguments I thought were good. Sometimes, I discover my own way of thinking to be somewhat flawed, such as my own distaste for present tense, and various assumptions I had made about how most writers act.
That said, microedits are a correction. Whether you want to call them constructive criticism or not (they meet the definition on a literal basis, after all), I just find them to not be constructive at all. They give writers no indication that their writing had any effect on you.
What did you think? Oh… that I used a their instead of a there? That’s great… oh you’re gone now? Thanks, I guess…
Microedits leave no impact, and they stifle the reader/writer relationship that I encourage everyone to build here. You’re going to want to inspire some fans. You’re going to want to get on a basis where you can exchange conversations with regular readers who let you know what they think. As a writer, this is essential to helping you improve your craft. It’s essential to motivate you to write. As a reader, this is a unique opportunity for you to be part of the development process, and it’s something you can only experience thanks to the development of the internet and web novels. Once that story is done, it’s done, but you have the opportunity to play a part in its production.
If you’re a micro-editor… you might as well be a computer algorithm for spell check for all the amount of personal relationship it builds. Plus, if you keep it up, if you spend every chapter just bucket listing every mistake your writer makes without ever communicating anything else to them… it’s bound to wear them down and depress them. A depressed writer doesn’t write. If you want your writer to write, maybe you should encourage them, rather than be continuously negative. And if you ARE that concerned over your writer’s grammar, maybe you should volunteer to edit, or at least help them find an editor. This is part of what makes the webnovel communities so interesting. You can all work together. In my opinion, this microediting crap is just half-assed, a half-assed attempt by the commenter to “help” the author, and a half-assed attempt at the writer to improve their work in a meaningful way. To coin Homer Simpson, try using your whole ass.