Why You Should Kiss Your Editor

Manuscript PageI read a rather upsetting quote the other day that was something along the lines of, “editors edit because they cannot write”. I can’t admit to remembering the exact context or source of the sentiment, but I found it to be naive and juvenile all the same.

Being an editor is similar to being a dentist. Often, people dread paying you a visit, but they have to do it in order to show off those pearly whites (or pearly pages) to the world. Editors need to polish, shape, scrape, and clean a manuscript just as a dentist does to your teeth. It’s bad enough to have writers dread your red pen, but to have people who believe that you do what you do because you could’t make it as a writer? Well, that’s even worse.

I write during about half of my professional time, and the other half is spent editing. My writing is good enough to be published to the masses, and my editing good enough to prepare the content of my co-workers for the same. Am I an anomaly? I think not. I think that perhaps whoever came up with that idea either had a terrible experience with an editor, or has a lot of trouble editing themselves.

An editor can be the difference between a flop and a bestseller, truly. They don’t only look for spelling and grammar issues, but they’ll make sure that when you said Sally’s eyes were blue, that they don’t change to brown halfway through the book. They’ll make sure that your readers won’t stumble or lose interest. They’ll make sure that when you say that your character traveled from one place to another in a single day that it makes sense logically. Some will even test recipes and calculate the passage of time to ensure consistency.

An editor expects to receive a rough story, even though the writer spent ages smoothing it. They’ll go over it carefully, exploring the intricate webs and structures of your words, sanding it down and helping to define the shape. And often, because they spend so much time perfecting the work of others, editors make excellent writers.

For me, the two go together like peas and carrots. To write well, you have to understand language at a deeper level than someone who does not write. To edit, you have to have a passion and adept knowledge for writing. You cannot expect to write well if you have no interest in editing, and you cannot expect to be a good editor if you do not enjoy writing.

I think that too much emphasis is placed on separating the two, when in actuality, editing should be set alongside reading as well as writing. To create quality material in any capacity, for any audience, you need to practice all three skills. They complement each other in such subtle ways that to ignore one is to damage the other. And in damaging one, you cause cracks and crevices in your stories.

Editors take your story and simply point to where they think that you could improve it. And ultimately, it is your work, so any good editor will make sure that you know that you may or may not accept some of their suggestions. They’ll walk you through the changes, and will often be willing to discuss or debate anything you wish to question. Remember, if something comes back to you with a lot of red, it means that you have an editor who spent a great deal of time trying to make your work the best that it could be.

So, instead of harping on them for missing a mistake or for wanting you to make a change that you don’t want to, try to find a little bit of appreciation for how much time they put into polishing your creation. Remember that they have the soul of a reader and writer as well, and that, if you picked a good one, they likely know what they are doing.

We should all be grateful to have people around who are willing to read our work over and over and over and provide insight while fully expecting to be criticized. So next time, show them that you genuinely appreciate their time and their skill. Show them that what they did made a difference to you, and that you think that they are just important to the story as you are.

What have your experiences with editors been like? What could have been better? Do you think that writers need to have editing skills as well?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.


14 thoughts on “Why You Should Kiss Your Editor

  1. With my sci-fi novel my editor, who is also a good friend of mine whom I met through writing and blogging, made sure the beginning measured up to keep reader interest and convinced me that, while dialect is important, entire passages shouldn’t be written in it. For my thriller novel, my editor, an another friend I met through blogging and writing, helped me close up several plot holes in the story. And my advisor on my thesis, who was like an editor, helped me keep the whole damn novel on track so that it didn’t go all over the place and kept it focused on the two main characters (and gave me some great ideas for the third draft when that comes around).

  2. There are beautiful writers but they don’t have in depth knowledge of grammar…being good at conversation and writing doesn’t mean the person can understand the delicacy of grammar…and a good editor without a doubt is an excellent writer…because no one can understand writing better than him…though I was not aware that editors take care of so many things while editing…thanks for sharing such a wonderful post about editors 🙂

    • You’re right, not all writers will have an understanding of grammar, but they do have to have an understanding of words. They need to have decent vocabularies and a better understanding of spelling and grammar and structure than someone who doesn’t write. And there are a number of different types of editors, depending on what a writer needs. Some can simply look at the basics, while others will look into the actual structure of the story, from premise to characters and settings. Personally, that’s my favorite kind, as opposed to editing for errors. 🙂

  3. You should kiss your editor’s ass if you think they know what they are doing. If it really does feel that they are taking away your art and making it flat then find a new editor. Chances are they know what the hell they are doing, and it’s painful if they take out something that you believe is really f’ing cool and worked very hard to get to. It’s painful from the get go because it’s inherently a criticism of your work. Also, most writers and editors have their favorite things, style, and pet peeves, another inherent problem, because the vision may clash. Probably an editor has an attitude after a while if they are to work on several writer’s work that they do not respect at all. So, a good idea is to find out what books have been their favorites. The editor and the writer are working toward the same goal which is to get the writer published. Bitching about an editor may go with the territory or be a part of the process and a professional editor should develop a thick skin and never be afraid to stand your ground and never be afraid to listen and expect to be a bit bashed by a writer after they put their own touches on a writer’s baby.

    • While I agree that negativity can come with the trade, and that editors should know that, I can’t say I agree that it is up to them to grow a thick skin. Editors provide a necessary service, and writers should expect criticism. That is, in essence, what editing is. I suppose you could say that if a writer isn’t prepared to have their work examined critically, perhaps they aren’t ready to look for an editor. I do think that finding the right one is essential, as you said. You should meet with a few, read their blogs, check out their work, and ask them a few questions about preferred genres and favorite authors. Not all writers will mesh with all editors, just as not all readers will enjoy the same books.

  4. I would not be surprised if the person, or persons who said that about editors was crying about the cost. Even the most reasonably priced editor can quickly become more painful than visiting the dentist. ‘A necessary evil’ is a saying that springs to mind, and we frequently devalue the work that goes in to necessary evils as it makes it more palatable.

    • Cost is a likely factor, seeing as it can be quite high, depending on the editor and the manuscript. And not all editing is negative, a lot of the time editors will pick up on things that would be embarrassing in a finished manuscript, without being judgmental about it. I do understand that it is hard to have your work edited, and to have your mistakes pointed out. I, as an editor, find it just as taxing as the next person, but I remind myself that my mistakes are being corrected, and that my writing is being improved, even if I feel a little ashamed about making an error.

  5. Lovely words about editors! As an aspiring editor myself, I appreciate what you have to say here =) Not all editors WANT to be writers, though their ability to be one can be more than proven. Personally, while I think writing is in my future (in about, say, 40 years or so, perhaps), right now I find much more joy in editing pieces and shaping them into the best they can be.

Leave some words of your own

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s