Why an Editor Should Be Your Partner in Crime - Murielle Müller
There’s a number of How-To articles of dealing with these “dreaded” editors, and this might just come close to it. While I see why interaction with an editor might evoke some feelings of uneasiness for writers – after all, editors are more often than not the ones to have the final say about your piece’s publication – I would like to ease this tension. So relax, take a deep breath, and let me tell you one thing: in today’s story, the editor is not the villain. Quite the contrary, actually. They are the emancipated sidekick, the carefully listening bartender who swipes away all your worries as they clean the counter and refill your glass, the helpful pal who lifts you up or the old wise lady with you know, the advice, in short, they are your (writing) partner in crime. They are here to aid and abet, advance your writing and prevent you from making a fool of yourself. They’re like that friend who points out to you that you have chocolate all over your mouth when you haven’t even noticed. Sure, you might feel like your toes are being stepped on, hastily trying to remove the chocolate...but you also know they’re doing this because they don’t want you to be laughed at in public.
So, it’s no secret that editors are more likely to catch that little error you’ve been reading over for the past 20 runs, as authors tend to inadvertently skip over mistakes because their brain makes the connection. Your partner in crime has that extra set of eyes; they brought the night-vision goggles to spy on your enemies. They are well rested and have not yet spent hours upon hours staring at the same words, their eyes are not tearing up every now and then from exhaustion... now you’re in your hideout, watching these errors float around as they are trying to invade and destroy the coherence of your carefully constructed house of words. You tense up, freak out, get emotional and want to eliminate them all at once but your vision is clouded, you cannot see them properly; it is hard to aim. You just know: they are out there. But thank goodness, you’ve got your sidekick who calms you down and presents you with a rational plan to attack every one of them individually. Your editor keeps their cool, they are less attached and only here to work with you. (Wow, I’m sure an editor might have some issues with the metaphor I am using here...)
Anyways, good teamwork is a two-way street and is built on compassion and an understanding of each other. During my first internship working as an editor in a small publishing house, my mentor explained to me that editors must, at least once, write something, and have it judged by others. The whole “having to walk in someone else's shoes” agenda was important to him to learn compassion as an editor. You cannot criticise without knowing what it feels like to be criticised; it’s as simple as that. This taught me that criticism needs good argumentation and should be a reasonable examination instead of the willful zinging of someone.
Sure, as a writer, working with an editor requires you to have an open mind and you definitely should not be too sensitive when it comes to feedback. The same goes for working with an author. Believe you me, writers can act very unreasonable. You see, it’s a fragile relation and my inner need for harmony urges me to find a peaceful middle ground. As we’ve all learnt at some point in group work, either side must be ready to work with the other to bring out something good, not work against the other. Writers must have a thick skin and mentally detach themselves from their piece, while editors have to keep in mind that they are working on a project in which someone might have already invested years.
Of course, working on a manuscript, for example, there is a difference in the various kinds of feedback you can either give or receive. As a writer, it’s a lot easier to admit that you missed a few commas and had a few typos, that’s only human, but once structure and context or even characters are questioned, it has the tendency to easily slip into a heated discussion. It hurts to hear “Your character is not well thought-out and needs more details”, but perhaps then it is time to take a step back and instead of yelling at the editor “you’re not well thought-out!”, you should keep in mind that editors are usually more experienced and know what a reader might be looking for.
And remember, they’re your sidekick and they want your best. Do not resent them. The best of them might even challenge you to enhance your writing to a new level, which can only be beneficial to you and your writing.