How My Dog Makes Me a Better Editor

Molly McCowan The Art of Editing 9 Comments

Update 9/2/2014: Misty passed away in my arms on August 29, 2014. I will always cherish our 16 joyful years together. Read on to learn some of the things she taught me.

Misty and Me

When I was 11 years old, there was nothing I wanted more than a puppy. After months of research, I decided that a Shetland Sheepdog was the one for me. I started saving my allowance and got an after-school job feeding the neighbor’s cats.

A year later, I had saved $412: enough for a purebred Sheltie puppy and all her shots. After unimaginable anticipation, I finally had a fluffy little ball of energy tucked into my jacket, and we were driving home. That was 15 years ago, and Misty is still by my side.

Even though she’s well into her golden years and can no longer jump into my arms or careen down playground slides, Misty is still going strong. I have learned so much from her throughout my life—how to be kind to all living things, how to set boundaries, how to have fun, how to be a good person.

She’s also made me a better editor. Here are a few things she’s taught me over the years.


Misty at Wash Park July 12 2013

Now that Misty is older, we take things at a slower pace. She naps on and off throughout the day, and sometimes paces around the house for no reason. She’s decided that after 14 years of eating dog food, she wants people food, and a wide variety of people food at that: I have to offer her different things from the pantry and fridge until I land on something she wants for breakfast that day. She relies on my patience to keep her tummy full and her many medications timed correctly—she needs my patience to make it through her day comfortably.

Editing also takes a lot of patience. Reading through a manuscript is one thing, but reading it while looking for syntactical errors, typos, incorrect grammar, awkward phrasing, unclear explanations, nonsensical ordering, and adherence to a specific style guide is an entirely different thing altogether. It takes patience to methodically edit 70,000 words, but seeing the final product is always worth the time and effort.

Attention to Detail

Misty at Horsetooth

I taught myself (thanks again, library!) to groom Misty like a professional: brushing, bathing, blow-drying, trimming, toenail clipping…the list goes on. Working to get her double coat looking just right taught me how to watch for all the tiny details: an ear that needed to be cleaned, a toenail that was longer than the others, a few hairs I had missed while trimming around her neck.

Editing also requires great attention to detail. In any given moment, I’m looking for possible errors or areas that can be improved, ranging from a missed space after a period to using British-style punctuation when it should be American-style. Attention to detail is truly the name of the game in editing, but it’s also important to see the big picture (paragraph and chapter ordering, consistent formatting, etc.).


Misty Puppy

Misty taught me the importance of consistency in dog training. She kept me on my toes when we did agility trials: if I seemed hesitant or missed a cue she knew she should’ve gotten, she would bark at me, as if to say, “Come on, you can do better!” I had to consistently tell her “no” when she was repeating a bad behavior—one slipup and she would try it again just to see if she could get away with it.

Consistency is also the backbone of effective editing. A huge part of editing is making sure everything in the written piece is consistent: formatting, page numbering, punctuation usage, spelling and grammar, and more.


Misty at Lee Martinez Park 2013

Misty and I have explicit trust in each other: she trusts me not to let her fall when I pick her up, to feed her, to take her for walks that won’t aggravate her arthritis. I trust her to never run into the street (she is almost always off-leash). I trust her with my infant nephews (she loves kids). I trust that she will always be by my side, in body or in spirit.

Trust is also a huge part of the editor–writer relationship. When I accept a manuscript or academic paper to edit, I trust the writer to be honest with me and treat me like a professional. The writer, on the other hand, trusts that I know what I’m doing, that I won’t rip their beloved sentences to shreds, that I will make the most logical decisions with the entire piece in mind, that I will take the time to explain my reasoning behind my edits. Trust has to exist in order for the editor–writer relationship to function successfully.


Misty at Rolland Moore

Now that Misty is a wise old dog, my compassion for her has grown exponentially. She was always extremely active throughout her life, so when I see her try to do something she used to be able to do, like run up the stairs, and fail, my heart aches for her. I try my absolute best to keep her arthritis pain from getting the best of her, and making sure she’s comfortable takes up a large portion of my day.

Compassion is a part of the puzzle that some editors miss when working with writers. Cutting a chapter of a writer’s novel or changing their thesis statement can feel like losing an arm to a writer who spent hours agonizing over those words. Compassion in editing is looking at the situation from the writer’s point of view, making sure to explain every edit if need be, and respecting the writer’s opinions, needs, and comfort levels.


Misty - Slide

Two years ago, I realized that Misty had gone deaf. She had become so used to keeping an eagle eye on me, reading my lips and body language, and paying attention to vibrations on the floor that I didn’t even know she had lost her hearing—I thought she was starting to get stubborn in her old age when she wouldn’t come when I called her. Then I realized that she wasn’t ignoring me—she couldn’t hear me! She didn’t let it stop her from interacting with me on an almost normal level, however, and friends and strangers are usually shocked when I tell them that she’s completely deaf.

Communication between editors and writers is a two-way street. Miscommunications and mismanaged expectations, if allowed to run amok, can wreak havoc on a would-be successful project. By the time I start an editing project, I’ve already exchanged multiple emails with the writer in order to lay down expectations, needs, and desired outcomes. I’ve interviewed the writer in detail about the level of editing they need, their audience, and more. I’ve written out a detailed contract so both of us know exactly what’s going to happen. I’ve set a deadline and let the writer know what I need from them and when. Although all of this may seem like overkill, clear communication develops mutual trust and respect, leading to a happy professional relationship.

Rolland Moore 2013

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This post is part of the Word Carnival series of monthly blog posts. Click to read more posts on this month’s topic, “Parentpreneurs: What Being a Parent Teaches You About Business,” written by other whip-smart entrepreneurs, marketing mavens, and small business owners. (I’m not a parent yet, so I wrote about the next best thing!)

Molly McCowan
Molly McCowan is a professional writer and editor from Fort Collins, Colorado. As the Lead Word Nerd at Inkbot Editing, it's her job to make you look good.