Editor and Writer – a Hate-Hate Relationship?

Translation etc header

Advice to authors and editors:

You are a writer.  You have produced your masterpiece.  Now your publisher or someone else suggests it needs to be professionally edited.

Immediately, your hackles rise.  You don’t need editing.  You have gone over the manuscript yourself, numerous times, and it is perfect.

Finally, kicking and screaming, you submit.  The first results return and you find that you have missed any number of spellcheck-proof errors of the ‘to/too’ variety as well as many wonky punctuation points.  Are you grateful?  Not exactly.  ‘I would have picked all of those up on one more read,’ you grumble.

Then you see a comma inserted somewhere and you don’t like it.  The editor points out that without it the sentence has a different meaning.  You don’t see it that way.  One of you capitulates, but only after many mutterings.

Now comes the ultimate insult – it is suggested that a sentence, paragraph, or passage be reworded.  A total tantrum is immediately indicated.  You suggest that the editor do some rather physically impossible things to him/herself, and you storm off to bed.  The following day, you concede that there may be a point.  A week later, you decide the rewrite is a great improvement.

Or, after reading your impassioned argument in defense, the editor comes back to you and says, ‘Oh, I see your point; much better to leave it as is.’  Replies like that do make one feel a lot better about the whole process, but there has still been a mutual rise in blood pressure.

Now we look at the editor.  He/she/it starts off happily, jabbing away at correcting the obvious stuff, and enjoying the tale.  Suddenly a screeching halt is reached.  ‘What the blanketty-blank is meant here?’ comes the anguished cry.  After some mental gymnastics, a revised wording is suggested.  The writer replies acidly, pointing out that had you read a little further on you would have seen exactly why that wording was essential or, quoting sources, why it is correct.  Now the (infallible, of course) editor is discomforted and not amused, instead of simply being glad that the point has been cleared up.

In another scenario, the editor is convinced that something is spoiling the story, but the writer refuses to budge and does not give any convincing argument for the refusal.  Capitulate, or stick to guns?  In these circumstances, the editor must persevere, and if overruled must make it clear that this is under protest.

I have been in the unique situation over the past few weeks of alternating between both of these roles.  I am professionally editing two novels, and having my own latest one undergo the same process.  In my ‘author’ role, I have had to learn to ignore my first reaction of, ‘How dare you criticize this?’ and take a deep breath followed by a long hard look.  It was painful, for example, to delete a section of brilliant wordplay (well, I still think it was) when the editor pointed out that it breaks the action in the passage in question, but if one has to concede that’s actually what it did, then that’s what had to be done!

Then, in my editor role, I have to remember my own reactions to any crit, take another deep breath, and use lots of patience in getting the point/s across.

It is clear that the relationship between editor and writer has to be approached as a partnership, with the greatest sympathy and understanding on both sides.  Subjectivity must be replaced with objectivity, and passion with reason.

Bottom line, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, and in the final analysis, an editor must be able to accept that even clichés can have their place – and the writer to acknowledge when they are overdone!

© September 2014 Leslie Hyla Winton Noble  (first appearing in Colonialist Blog, June 2014) (WordPress)
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3 thoughts on “Editor and Writer – a Hate-Hate Relationship?

  1. roughseasinthemed

    Totally empathise, as I’m in a similar situation. My advantage my writing I’m doing is corporate so no pesky editor to trip me up. And when I did corporate writing/editing as an employee, I gaily red-penned others but told everyone my work was not up for grabs, ok maybe I’d let the chief exec make the odd comment. I’m happy enough for authors to stick with their writing/style when I’ve made suggestions, so long as they know I don’t agree. But that’s in cases where the subject is up for debate, cases of factual error, inconsistencies, typos, mis-punctuation, aren’t really up for debate. The trick (from the editing perspective) is making it as good as it can be, without changing the essence of the novel or the style, and for the author, to think that reads much better after all. It is a fine balance though, and even us perfect editors may miss things which is galling in the extreme.

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    Reply
  2. Arkenaten

    A thought struck me the other day as to whether two different editors would have completely different views when editing the same book?

    My experience in Real Estate has shown that different attorneys’ will invariably want to alter a
    contract , even though it is perfectly legal, having been drawn up by an(other) attorney.
    It may only be rewording, but as often as not there will be something.
    You are in a similar position, Les, being author and editor.

    What do you think?

    Like

    Reply
    1. colonialist Post author

      I’m quite sure there will be, but I think the measure of good editors, whose primary concern is to remain faithful to the writer’s own style and individuality, will be that such differences should be minor. If there are major ones it means one or both editors are imposing on the writing. Where major excusable differences would be seen is if both had to virtually rewrite the thing.

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