The time to begin an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say. ~ Mark Twain
Editing can be one of the most creative times in the writing process. It’s then that I solidify the story, learn what it’s about, see patterns and themes, become truly acquainted with the characters. Editing is exciting.
Editing for others, though? Let’s be honest. Without trust and a good manuscript, editing can be an exercise in frustration.
Recently, I sent some edits back to another editor to pass along to the author, and encountered distrust — not from the author herself, but from her liaison (which is why it’s best to establish a direct relationship between editor and author).
He warned me that she is young, and that this is her first novel. Whenever someone mentions the author’s age or inexperience, they’re telling me to soft-peddle the feedback, keep the editing more “Rah-rah, you’re great!” and less “This doesn’t work, and must be fixed.”
I taught writing to children of all ages for fourteen years, and the young writers often won poetry and essay contests. They learned how to tell stories and construct research papers. Their schoolwork improved. If honesty mixed with encouragement works for 6-18 year olds, it’ll work for a rookie author. (Hey, it works for me, too!)
The same liaison added that this young writer already has endorsements from bestselling authors, and is being mentored by another. That’s fantastic, but why do I — the manuscript editor — need to know that? Do her endorsements and mentor change the words on the page?
Something I learned as a slush reader for magazines: I don’t need to know an author’s credentials, resume of published works, movie rights sold, guild memberships, list of endorsements. None of that is important when their words are in front of me. It’s my job to read those words and determine whether or not the work is a fit for the magazine, not be influenced by the author’s appearance of prestige. That’s irrelevant to the story.
The same applies to editing.
To be honest, it is nettlesome that anyone feels the need to reveal those credentials, because doing so comes across as an attempt to temper my work, to adjust what and how I edit, in order to accommodate the author’s ego. In other words, I am to flatter rather than correct.
I’m not interested in lashing anyone’s ego. After all, I need encouragement as much as any writer does. However, being cautioned about a writer’s age, being given a writer’s credentials — this implies distrust of me as a person, a writer, and an editor.
This discourages me more than encountering a cliche-riddled fiction manuscript nowhere near publish-ready.
It’s not my job to just pat writers on the back. It’s my job to challenge them to be better writers.
Below is a Facebook exchange I had with Johne Cook, a friend and fellow writer:
EE: I’m weary of the notion that editors are mean, uncreative types who exist to trouble writers and steal the soul from their work.
JC: As a guy, I am more interested in facts, the truth. Yes, I prefer constructive criticism – nobody likes a bruised ego – but I’d rather hear the hard truth than a gentle untruth.
EE: That’s the thing: I don’t want my ego battered around, either, nor do I intend to abuse others. It’s as if writers think the truth is anathema to self-esteem. I see it differently: Someone thinks enough of me to tell me the truth. By doing so, they imply I am strong enough to handle it, intelligent enough to assimilate it, and talented enough to pursue better work.
JC: Exactly. Truth without love is brutality. Love without truth is a lie.