Secrets of the Smirking Editor

Welcome, Eilis Flynn, who's here to give her insight into how editors think and operate based on her years of vast, colorful experience working as both an author AND an editor.

She's also arranged a sponsorship from Grammarly for her post and is offering a $15 Amazon gift card for one lucky person who comments on this post (see details below). Take it away, Eilis...

“I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because we all need to have our work checked!”

Unnecessary Introduction

When I was laid off from my job as an editor and Editor Devil Christine Fairchild kindly offered me a slot for a blog post so I could tell her readers about my editing history, I thanked her and said I would come up with something. And the months went by, and I kept starting and stopping on what I wanted to write. My own fiction writing I could tell you all about; I’m used to shilling my fiction. The part of my life that’s paid the bills for more than thirty years? I was struck dumb. For a few seconds.

Well, it was longer than that (a number of months, I’m embarrassed to say), but I finally remembered that I was giving a presentation at the end of October about editing. Hey, I should get started on that, I said to myself. If nothing else, jot down at least some random notes about editing, and why editors can sometimes be caught smirking. That I can do, I decided. The contents will change as the time grows closer for the workshop, but the intent will remain the same.

Secrets Behind the Smirking

On occasion you’ll notice editors smirking a little. You may ask yourself why. Are they making fun of you or your work? Are they thinking of cruel things to do to their clients’ work? No, not at all (as far as I know; at least that’s not why I smirk). Here’s my theory on why other editors may smirk: they know you’re scared of grammar.

At least some people are. There’s no good reason for it (being frightened, that is, not grammar. No, we NEED grammar, as you’ll see). I think it’s more likely there’s a tiny little bit of childhood in us that doesn’t want to be made fun of if we get something wrong. Everybody has that fear in them, for something or other; for some people it may be a horsey laugh they have, or a funny way they run through no fault of their own, or a tendency to mispronounce certain words (“Schenectady” and “Cinderella” were mine). Editors face that fear every single day and do battle with it. Sometimes it beats us, but more often than not, we triumph! So that could explain the smirk you may see on our faces. We not only meet our fear, but we know we have the means by which to overcome it!

On the other hand, that smirk may be there because while we hold the means by which to give your work a makeover, we know you do too. But because you allow your fear to get the better of you, you may hypercorrect (editors have been known to smirk when they read statements like “There’s nothing between Oliver and I,” because they know the author of that sentence isn’t clear about when to use “I” and “me”). Editors will tell you things like that can rip them, and the reader, away from the story. You have the power to keep the reader focused on your tale by making sure the grammar, the method by which your story is built, remains in the background. If your reader gets jarred out of your wonderful story by clunky grammar, you may never get him or her back into the groove, and the experience of reading your story goes down the drain.

Believe it or don’t, grammar comes naturally to us. It’s how we learn to think; it’s how we communicate. Without grammar, essentially, we devolve into beasts—and even wild beasts have it easier than we do at that point, because they know how to communicate without grammar. Our problem as humans is our fear of being laughed at re: grammar. Grammar should come as easily as breathing or as telling a story. It’s only when we doubt our instincts that we have difficulty deciding what’s right.

Favorite Quote About Grammar

Finally, I have a quotation from a book titled Genie: A Scientific Tragedy that I’ve always had taped up in my office. I’ve kept it in mind through the years whenever someone complains about grammar:

“...[W]e are physically formed by the influence of language. An essential part of our personal physical development is conferred on us by others, and comes in at the ear. The organization of our brain is as genetically ordained and as automatic as breathing, but, like breathing, it is initiated by the slap of a midwife, and the midwife is grammar.”

To Think Clearly, Know Your Grammar

You need grammar to think clearly. So the next time you find your thinking in a muddle...well, think grammar. And that’s why editors can be seen to be smirking: you think you need us to make sure your thoughts are clear, but the secret is, you don’t. You could do it all on your own. And that’s our secret.

And the grammar website Grammarly has kindly offered to sponsor this post, so if you leave a comment, your name will be thrown into the running to win a $15 Amazon gift card! So comment away! (Remember, the best clever/funny reason for using Grammarly each month wins a $100 Amazon gift card!)

Before we go there, though, it’s time for the commercial:
Check out for editing services and pricing.
My latest book as Eilis Flynn, cowritten with Heather Hiestand, is the steampunk vampire historical fantasy, Wear Black:

To find other books by Eilis Flynn, see her Amazon Author page.

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Flynn worked in Wall Street and Wall Street-related firms for almost 35 years, so why should she write anything that’s any more based in reality? Published in a number of genres (fiction and nonfiction), she writes fiction as Eilis Flynn and lives in Seattle with her patient husband and the ghosts of her spoiled rotten cats. She can be reached at, at Facebook, and at Twitter. She can be reached at As Elizabeth Flynn, she’s taking editing clients, so drop her a line at or


  1. The rules of grammar seem arbitrary to so many people, but they're really just like good manners: it all comes down to making life easier for the other person. When it comes to grammar, the other person is your reader.

    For manners: Give up that seat on the bus for some one who is more tired than you, say thank you for all kindnesses, and hold that door for anyone who comes after you.

    1. Well, Laurie, considering the utter collapse of manners in today's society, the collapse of grammar is inevitable, then!

  2. I fight with grammar every time I type. I usually tag my wife in help me. She has a better grasp than I do, as well as a fresh set of eyes.

    Your new book looks interesting. Would someone not necessarily into romance novels enjoy it?

    1. "Wear Black" isn't a romance, not really, Devin. It's steampunk!

    2. Congratulations, Devin, you are the winner of the contest!!!

      Please contact Eilis for your gift:

      And thanks again for participating on my Editor Devil blog!


  3. Since it's too many years after grammar school, I confess to not remembering all those little grammar details I once knew so well. Also, it appears some have changed, which makes handling words all the more difficult!

    Morgan Mandel

  4. The inevitable changing of language can be frustrating, Morgan. I was a linguistics major originally in college, so I'm sensitive to that. And editors have to be doubly sensitive to that. (My favorite example: the word "kine," as in the plural of "cow." Hasn't been used in decades--most likely about the 1950s. Here's one that's happening in front of our eyes: "loan" vs. "lend." That one hurts me, but I know by the time I'm eighty, people will be surprised that it was any other way!)

  5. And before I forget: Try!

  6. The problem with grammar mistakes is that they are so hard to catch--we all have bad habits, and the habit of not seeing the glitches.

    That's where an editor can be so very helpful--fresh eyes bring new insights.

  7. We all have blind spots, Shannon, even editors -- which is why we ALL need fresh eyes to look over our work, even editors. (Good example is the word "Schenectady," which I used in my post. I sent the post to Christine for uploading. My husband pointed out that I had forgotten an "e." The entire city is my spelling enemy!)

  8. Thank you for commenting, ladies and gent. The winner of the Amazon gift cert is Devin Gustus! Drop me a line for details.