4 Reasons Not to Use an AI Editor
Updated: Oct 28, 2022
You’ve finished your manuscript and are looking into the first steps to getting it self-published. Most likely, you’ve seen a consistent number one recommendation: Hire an Editor. But the question “why” still sticks in your head, even after you’ve read our article about why you should hire an editor. Why, when computers have spell check and Grammarly and other Artificial Intelligence-based editing software, should you hire a professional editor? Here are 4 reasons you should hire a human editor instead of just relying on AI editors.
1. AI editors don’t catch everything.
Spell check is great, and we highly recommend that you use it when working on any professional writing! However, it is good for only very specific things, like catching words that aren’t in the dictionary, extra spaces, that kind of thing. Typos rather than writing errors. There’s even a poem that points this out better than I ever could. For example, my spell check on Word isn’t telling me the sentence before last is a (intentional) sentence fragment. Now, spell-check software and other AI editors like Grammarly have come a long way, but the point remains. Language is complex, it changes faster than AI programming can keep up, and it can be used in so many different, beautifully crafted ways that an AI editor would tell you to change or is incorrect when it isn’t.
2. AI editors are sometimes wrong.
Due to the creative nature of language, there are simply limitations to what AI can recognize. For example, there have been times when an AI editor has told me to remove a comma, but after I did it told me to add the comma back. Which was actually correct? The AI says both and neither at the same time. These are the moments you need a human editor, who can look at the sentence with all its context and all its nuances and decide what’s really the best choice to convey the meaning you’re looking for. “The hill overlooking the town” and the “town hill” are not the same thing.
Additionally, AI editors programmed to prioritize concise language aren’t looking for what works or doesn’t work in a narrative. “His girlfriend of the past seven months worked in that building” has an entirely different meaning than what Grammarly suggested: “His girlfriend worked in that building for the past seven months.” Grammarly made the suggestion because it thought my original phrase “may be unclear or hard to follow,” but there isn’t really anything unclear to most readers, and what Grammarly suggested was simply wrong for the meaning of the sentence.
3. Professional editors have access to other resources.
While you probably have access to Word or Google Doc’s spell check and the free version of Grammarly, a professional editor will have invested in the paid version of Grammarly (or editing software), grammar books they can reference, style guides they can reference, and an education that enables them to properly use those tools.
“Wait, you mean professional editors may use Grammarly when editing my book? Why not just use it myself and save the money?” Well, yes, professional editors should use Grammarly or other editing software at some point in the editing process. It’s another tool to make sure nothing falls between the cracks. But they don’t just use Grammarly. It is but one small tool in an arsenal of editing tools. Furthermore, when professional editors use Grammarly, they’re evaluating every suggestion Grammarly makes to see if it’s appropriate, not just taking any and all suggestions. A paintbrush will only do you so much good in making a realistic landscape. If you have the artistic foundation and knowledge, then you can paint a masterpiece.
Even if you are evaluating and taking care with an AI editor on your own editing passes, there’s only so much you can do on your own. You need an objective set of eyes that will read your work from a reader’s perspective.
So what does this look like in practice? My editing process is ideally 5+ readthroughs of a work. It varies based on what types of editing I'm doing for the project, but generally, my first readthrough is to get familiar with the work, take notes, and make edits to any glaring errors or anything that jumps out at me. The next three+ readthroughs are editing with a fine-tooth comb (one with the markup on, one+ with no markup). My last readthrough is when I have Grammarly open while doing my own final editing pass. It makes up such a small part of my editing process.
4. Editors know how and when to break the rules.
AI editors are looking for mistakes. In some cases, they’re looking to “improve” your writing. But what are they looking to improve exactly? Most AI editors are programmed for business or formal writing rather than creative writing, and their suggestions reflect that. I get so many recommendations to change vocabulary or that a phrase is “unnecessarily wordy,” but there’s a certain point where using “and” instead of “as well as” would change the meaning of the sentence. Another example is commas. Sometimes a comma isn’t needed, but it’s helpful to break up a sentence or put a pause to help guide the reader toward the right inflection.
Narrative writing is about getting your readers to feel something. Sometimes, the best way to do that is to write creatively, to bend the rules and sometimes even break them. But breaking the rules only works when you do it sparingly, intentionally, and for a specific meaning. If you’re breaking rules unintentionally, it will muddy the attempts to do something clever, and the meaning will be lost.
A professional editor has studied how to craft writing to have the most impact. They will also have the distance from your work to be objective. To tell you the things that are working narratively and the things that aren’t.
Why Do You Need a Human Editor?
Editing creative writing has one purpose: to facilitate the reader’s experience. This is accomplished by a number of ways. One, removing obstacles (mistakes and typos) that would bring a reader out of the story. Two, making sure the writing reads well to another human being. You want the book to be enjoyable, to have a consistent tone, to be exciting, and written in a way that will make people feel something. As great as technology is, it simply hasn’t reached the point where it can handle all the complexities of purposefully evoking emotion through language.
As a professional editor, here is my suggestion for when to use (or not use!) AI editing software:
Finish your draft and do some self-editing, making sure spell check is on (Grammarly or other editing software in addition is optional).
Hire a professional editor. If you’re not sure what to look for (are they going to be doing multiple passes?) or where to find one, check out our blog on the subject.
Review the editor’s edits. If you want to have an AI editor for this, go ahead and turn one on! If you have questions about edits, talk to your editor. Most professional editors will welcome and even expect some back-and-forth with editing passes and drafts. If there’s something your AI editor has suggested that they didn’t do, you can find out why.
If you want a handy checklist beyond just editing for the whole self-publishing process, check out our Self-Publishing Checklist!
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