I am an editor.
Unlike the title of writer, I am confident in saying: I am an editor. I’ve been doing it for a good, solid chunk of time now.
Editors are both loved and reviled. (At least, people say they appreciate their editors. I’ve heard some even consider their editors friends. This could be urban myth though…)
Over the past year, I’ve had some folks argue rather vehemently against the editing process. They disagree with the changes I’ve made/suggested, they don’t like having to add/remove scenes, they don’t want to lose that one, precious sentence they bled over…
Being an editor is tough work, folks. It means taking someone else’s newborn baby, cleaning it, giving it its shots, making it scream, determining if it has all its appendages and organs, and checking that they’re all in the right place.
The reason the author can’t do this? Because no one can see that their own baby is ugly.
Really. Getting the distance to see what you’ve really written versus what you think you’ve written is virtually impossible. That’s why you need someone else to do it for you. And when I say someone else, I don’t mean your mum or friend or partner.
I mean someone who is trained to do it. Someone who understands market, genre, house style, grammar, and structure. Not someone who just says, “What a great little story!” but rather someone who says, “I understand what you’re trying to do here. The thing is, it isn’t working because of x, y and z. If, however, you add an element of x to page 25, scene A, then it will help you tie these things together.”
Certain things are negotiable in editing–word choice, to some extent, and the general structure. But if your character does something that they wouldn’t normally do, and it’s not intentional on the author’s part (i.e. it’s not a growth/change moment) then something needs to be done about that. If your character is using words a character like that wouldn’t use (i.e. is a plumber going to use four syllable words on a regular basis?) perhaps that’s the character you’ve built. But if they just happen to use one, when as a rule they don’t, then that’s out of character and should be analysed.
The point of editing is to make your work the best it can possibly be. If you believe, to the depths of your soul, that ONLY you can tell this story and not a single change made my someone else is warranted, then let me tell you something: you’re in the wrong profession, folks. As a colleague of mine says, “Editing is not a democracy. It can be a discussion, but it’s not a democracy.” (This is true when it comes to house style, specifically and not when you’ve hired a freelance).
EVERY WRITER needs a good editor. I mean that to the combined dictionary-thesaurus depths of my being. And you must be willing to admit that maybe you DON’T know everything about the craft of writing. Because it is a craft. It’s work, and you learn and learn and learn. You are not always right. (Neither is your editor, incidentally. They can be wrong too.) I am an editor–but when I’ve got my writing hat on, I need an editor. I miss things in my own writing all the time I fix in author’s manuscripts. Because it’s a different hat, a different point of view. And I trust whoever is editing me to pick up the issues I’ve left like breadcrumbs and erase the editorial voice on the path all together.
That’s the absolute foundation of a relationship with your editor. You must trust them to be trained in what they’re doing, to know the house style (which is not negotiable, folks. House style is part of a publisher’s brand, and those rules are meant for every author under the brand’s umbrella), to understand the elements of the genre and to implement them well, without stepping on your voice. When you argue things like dialogue tags and comma splices, you’re not trusting them to know what they’re talking about.
No one likes to be told their baby isn’t utterly perfect the moment its born. But with a bit of magic performed by the right people, that baby can be perfect by the time other people cradle it in their arms. It might not be exactly what you pictured it would be, but when it grows up, what baby is?