When members of writers’ groups become friends, a wide variety of unintended consequences can arise. Catching-up on life can overtake story reading and feedback can become diluted. The line between encouragement and useful feedback can disappear. It’s easy to sit around and laugh and say “kill your darlings….” easy, that is, until the
executioner editor comes along and kills them for you.
If you’ve never experienced a good, hard edit it can be a jolt. It can leave even the most competent of writers with a lump in the throat and feeling a tad sick to the stomach. This is true, too, if the most recent feedback you’ve received is on stuff you published 108 years ago.
Well-meaning family members can also contribute to your big letdown. They tend to offer the sought-after but completely useless phrases “I like it” or “It’s good.”
What the Writer Writes vs. What Gets Read
There’s a gulf between what the writer writes and what gets read. The developmental editor is tasked, in part, with bridging that gap. Not only is she your first line of defense against total embarrassment, but she is also tasked with reading your submission in multiple ways. First and foremost, she will read it as a prospective reader. Are there things that stayed in the writer’s head? That never made it to the page? The brain’s tendency to self-correct won’t allow you to see those for yourself.
She will make a pass-through for redundancy and obvious factual errors. She will determine whether or not the order is correct. And she will likely save you from embarrassing beginner mistakes such as a “forward,” prologue and epilogues. Just start — or end — the damned story already. And, once upon a time “foreword” was the most frequently misspelled words in finished volumes. (It’s not ‘forward’ as in ‘forward movement’ but ‘foreword’ as in ‘the word that comes before.’)
A Different Set of Questions
Some editors also employ proof-reading software and beta-readers at this stage. These are not tools to be used in place of his judgment, but simply to offer some back-up and raise a different set of questions.
Different editors work in different ways. Some will redline the heck out of something you think is perfect and bounce it back to you. However, if you’re working on a tight deadline or there are many authors involved, the editor may take on a role resembling that of a ghostwriter. In this capacity, she will try to capture your voice and intent… to make sure the page reflects what you meant to say.
Having worked both ways, I can assure you that neither one feels good — and, when I’m open to the process — both teach me a lot about becoming a better writer.
Some Do’s and Don’ts
Here are some things to keep in mind when working with an editor at this stage:
- DO check your ego at the door. The reason any of us has any sort of editor is that we cannot view our work objectively. This is not a criticism — it’s just how the human brain actually works. The writer sees what he or she meant to put on the page — editors see what actually made it.
- DO keep your eyes on the prize. The editor’s goal is the same as yours: to create the highest quality, most reader-friendly document possible. Nobody is criticizing you or trying to hurt your feelings.
- DO remember what your spouse may have said: sometimes your jokes just aren’t funny.
- DO take a step back. It’s easy to do contradict your own style, to split an infinite, to misplace a modifier, to miss a cut and paste error, to trust spellcheck when you shouldn’t, to inadvertently change voices or points of view….
- DON’T argue. Editing is just as hard as writing. Editors don’t need to get beat up by your intention or inspiration. They’re not unfriendly, they just don’t care — it’s not their job to care about those things. If they added or deleted something to your piece, it’s simply because it wasn’t working the other way.
Remember, nobody wants to hurt your feelings — and somebody needs to kill your darlings. If you don’t, your editor will. Print lasts a long time.
Got some praise for an editor? Please share it in the comments. We’d love to read all about it!