Believe it or not, I understand some of the unpleasant or ambivalent feelings people have toward editors. I always cringe a little when my writing get reviewed and edited by professors, friends, other editors, or whomever. But it seems that some people are either embarrassed about having their work edited or they simply think it’s an unnecessary misery. I suspect both responses stem from some unfortunate misconceptions about editing.
Myth #1: Only bad writers need editors.
We all want to believe that our written work is flawless, but being a good writer doesn’t mean producing perfect first drafts — it means carefully revising your work, sometimes sweating and grunting through multiple drafts until your writing is clear, descriptive, logically organized, and has the appropriate tone for your audience.
This myth is the first and possibly the worst of them all because it promotes a grotesquely distorted view of the writing process and twists every little error into a symbol of failure. I know it’s painful to have your mistakes marked up in screaming red ink or highlighted in track changes, but good writing comes from good editing. Be prepared to revise.
Myth #2: Your editor is your nemesis.
Your editor is your ally. Editors would love to have nothing but friendly interactions with authors, but an editor’s job is to make sure your writing is strong. Sometimes that means handing out a little tough love, and although we take great pains to be diplomatic, we may occasionally miss the mark — we’re human too. But we really do want to make sure your ideas shine. We know how difficult writing can be, and we don’t want you to take heat from your readers because of a bad inference, a lingering plot hole, or ambiguous wording.
Sometimes this means we will advise you to delete or overhaul parts of your work. We don’t do this lightly; it actually makes us feel pretty lousy to say that you should cut out or rewrite huge pieces of the text that you worked so hard to write. We know we’re going to get pushback. You may not agree with every change, but a good editor always has good reasons for making them. Take some time to consider the suggestions that have been offered.
Myth #3: Your writing needs to be absolutely perfect.
Perfectionism is as counterproductive as pathological procrastination. You can reread and rewrite your work as many times as you want, but you will still need a second pair of eyes to catch the problems, big and small, that you’ve missed. However, unless you’re wealthy, you probably can’t afford to hire multiple editors for everything you write, and you’ll eventually run out of friends and colleagues who are willing to indulge your obsessive-compulsive behaviour. At some point, you have to step away from the keyboard and say “good enough.”
Remember that making mistakes does not automatically invalidate your ideas or negate your hard work. Once you’ve got the big stuff figured out, made your story or argument consistent, and sentenced your darlings1 to death, the rest will be much easier to fix. And if, at your book launch, some obnoxious nitpicker insists on pointing out that you have a dangling modifier on page 122 of your 200-page novel, just flash them your sweetest smile, politely excuse yourself from the conversation, and mentally delete them from all your future guest lists. Or tell them to go somewhere horrible and do something physiologically impossible to themselves. It’s your call.
- Darlings are those precious pieces of text that, after all the love and care you’ve shown them, grow up to be vampires that suck all the reader’s attention away. Drag these foul beasts into the sunlight and drive stakes through their hearts. Do it now. You will be permitted to cry later. ↩