Friday, February 21, 2014

'F' is for fight: or editing a written work

A little post in response to what Nicki Elson forwarded on thoughts on editing for rock-star writers.

Editors have it tough, don't they? Editing a good work to make it better, then getting slammed by the writer for daring to destroy their creative work. How dare they!

And then the reviews come out that say exactly what the editor was saying, and the editor just has to sit there, read the reviews that say 'where was the editor?' and put a glum smile on their face and not even dare to whisper 'I told you so.'

Editors have it tough.

No. Editors have it TOUGHER.

Why? They give this constructive, thoughtful criticism, and the writer has a hissy-fit on them and flames out,  in a most spectacular fashion.

Writers can be rock-stars, if not in sales, then in egos.

Not that I (am) talking from personal experience.

But it's fine to say 'Woe is I!' as the editor for getting napalmed, but, pardon me, didn't you sign up for it? You know you are dealing with children (or if you didn't, then that delusion is soon lifted from your eyes), and you are dealing with something amazing and creative and ...

And you want it better. That's why you just spent sleepless nights pouring your heart out in these constructive comments.

The thing is, you know better, and the writer does not.


The thing, also, is: the writer had the vision. You do not have the writer's vision. The writer does.

So you offer your suggestions, and cutting comments, and the writer says, 'No! Never!'

What do you do? You have the experience of the publishing process. The writer does not. You know the writer is going to get flamed.

All you can do is say, 'Look, Chris, you are going to get savaged here. It's too wordy. (or: it lacks dialog) or you go too deep too fast (or: you skip from a to z, you need to lead the reader more here, really) or whatever.'

You know this. And the writer still says 'no' and has the work published her way.

Let go. You did what you could. The writer didn't take your advice, because she was just so sure of herself and her writing.

Now the reviews come. Who grows? The writer does, or ... the writer does not, and that crap you needed cut out? You were right. And If the writer grew, she would see that in the reviews and improve her writing.

The hard way.

Wisdom is taking the advice from others (you) without the hard knocks of finding out for herself. So few people have wisdom, and so many people are just so attached to what they created, because why?

Because they created something. You know a lot of writers. You know a lot of creative people.

But the life of a writer, oftentimes, is a lonely one, and she's the only one who's ever done this from her family, and none of her friends nor coworkers ever have.

She created something, and you want to cut it all up into little bloody ribbons, AND have her happy about the damage you've just visited on her baby?

And ... wait. Did you just surprise your writer with a big red stain all over her manuscript, or did you, the second time you noticed this grammatical mistake or gaping plot-hole or excessively wordy description ...

Did you edit away, cutting, cutting, cutting throughout the nice, marking the same mistakes over and over and then present the remains to the author as one huge 'surprise' for the writer to swallow en mess (not en masse because to the writer, you just made a mess of things).

Or did you, the second time into page 10 of the manuscript, get on the phone or meet for coffee and say, 'Hey, Chris, I started editing your work. I liked it. The thing is, I keep noticing this, can we sit and talk about this before I go further?'

Editing doesn't need to be a solo work either. The editor can collaborate with the author, and maybe have less push-back and more buy-in with the big battles come.


And maybe some writers are big enough to realize that the editor is right, and that she is wrong, and could've written that passage or chapter ... or ending ... better.

Some writers are that good, eh, Nicki?

And maybe some editors collaborate, but to no avail, because the writer is being priggish.


If the writer saw it your way in the first place, she would've written it your way, not hers. She didn't. She wrote it her way.

Is this manuscript important enough for you to fight for, as the editor?

Yes? Well, then fight, and enjoy the fight, win or lose: you fought for what you believed.

No? Let it go, and let it be a learning experience for the nascent rock-star.

We all have to grow. Sometimes. Unless we're perfect, beautiful people already.

Then it's all good.

1 comment:

Nicki Elson said...

Why is it whenever you try to comment at my place, you always end up with your own post?? Heehee.

I've been on both sides of this fence, and my least favorite part of editing is the nervous feeling in my gut whenever I send off the red to the author. I try to prepare them as best I can, but I know that even the most grace-filled of authors must flinch at least a little upon opening the document.

Truthfully, I don't like it when an author takes ALL of my suggestions. It makes me nervous. It's better when they weigh every suggestion, take what improves the story and reject what won't. That's what I try to do when on the author side of things.

I think my biggest advice to authors upon receiving the editor notes would be to read them, take a deep breath, walk away for a bit, then read them again and see what ya think.

I agree that editors need to decide which battles are worth fighting. In one sense, I feel like it's the author's baby and they don't want to heed my warnings, it's their choice. In another sense, I'm working for the publisher who took a chance on this book and if I see something that will potentially affect the book's success in the marketplace, I'd better be prepared to dig in my heels.