Attention, Writer: Listen to Your Editor

Greetings, my lovelies. I know, it’s been simply AGES since you’ve heard anything from me here. Not to worry, neither have I perished, nor have I been abducted by various bad guys or sundry aliens. Granted, my body has been hijacked by a small being that seems determined to keep me alternately starving or nauseated, but since I volunteered as host, I can’t really complain.

Yes, you read that correctly: I am, indeed, with child. I’m also looking forward to the end of the first trimester, when, everyone assures me, the debilitating exhaustion and nausea should pass. And once it does, you can expect a post or two containing more tongue-in-cheek reflections on pregnancy and impending parenthood, &c.

But I Digress — On to The Stuff About Getting Edited!

Your editor will probably use more editor-ish marks than I've used here. But either way, you get the point!

Today, I’ve emerged from temporary hibernation in order to share with you the following quote I read this morning:

“If the editor is worth their salt, they will tear your work up in red, making many critical comments. That’s a good thing. It’s what you want. Without it, you’ll never know how to write well. Your friends value your friendship too much to tell you what they honestly think. If you are serious about writing, you simply cannot have thin skin. So hire an editor to give you some straight talk. You may go into depression for a few weeks following, but once you recover, you’ll emerge a better writer.”

–Frank Viola
in “On Writing: Part II – How Authors & Bloggers Can Use Social Media”

Let me repeat that: Without the tearing-up of your work via an editor, you will never know how to write well.

Why not?

Because here’s the truth of the matter: Your story doesn’t have the solid structure you think it has. Your grammar is not as perfect as you think it is. Your characters aren’t as distinct and multi-dimensional as you think they are. Your writerly voice does not read as clearly as you think it reads.

Basically hon, you’re not as good a writer as you imagine you are.

Welcome to Being A Writer.

By definition, we writers are all blind. We might be able to recognize a few of our own flaws, but we’re kind of like the story of the three blind men who all grope an elephant to determine what it is. We feel out a few problems here and there, but we never see the big picture. We can’t. We’re too close to it. We identify an unattractive hair or two growing out of an ear somewhere, but there’s no way we can see the wrinkles, the lines, or the flab hanging down to drag the ground.

Editors are amazing people.

They see things.

No, no, they don’t see dead people… Wait! Ha! They do see dead people. Dead story people, that is. They see the parts of your story that are afflicted by rigor mortis. They see where things have atrophied beyond hope of reanimation. They see where you need to nip, tuck, slice, and purge. And the good news is, unlike your best friend or your mom or your solicitous Aunt Bertha, editors aren’t afraid to tell you.

So, writer, take your editor’s advice: Suck it up and get to work. Your story will thank you for it, your readers will thank you for it, and your future writerly self will love you for it.

P.S. Lest you think I balk at taking my own medicine, here’s the one In Which Courtney Got Edited And It Hurt But She Didn’t Regret It.

19 thoughts on “Attention, Writer: Listen to Your Editor

  1. Iris says:

    I agree. We need an expert to mentor us; that is purpose of an editor. We have to remember is that they are there to make our work better, not to cause us sleepless nights and clenched fists.

    It’s all on how we handle it.

    • Exactly, Iris! Although it’s worth mentioning that finding an editor with good critiquing and communication skills should also be a consideration (the better to avoid the sleepless nights). ; ) Thanks for your comment!

  2. KeriKnutson says:

    First of all, congrats! (although I hate to tell you, I have five from 23 to 6 — and I’m still alternately nauseated and exhausted).

    Second, applause to everything you said. (and I’m not just saying that as an editor). I can’t tell you the number of indie books I’ve sampled and then NOT bought because I could tell within the first page or two that there had been no editorial guidance. And it’s not even typos and grammar — it’s structure and narrative flow and character development. Remember, every time a good editor makes a suggestion, you as a writer learn something and become a better writer.

    • “Remember, every time a good editor makes a suggestion, you as a writer learn something and become a better writer.” Keri, that’s pretty much the best summary of this post I could wish for! Too bad I didn’t think of it myself. ; )

      I hear ya on not buying books because the lack of editing is so evident. You’re more generous than I am, though; I’ve decided against buying after reading the poorly written product description (or back cover copy). I figure if another set of eyes hasn’t looked over that part, chances are that only the author’s eyes have seen the inside of the book as well!

      Thanks so much for dropping in and commenting!

    • P.S. On the nausea and exhaustion induced by five children — I can’t even imagine!

  3. Ah, so very true. Thankfully, I’m one who happens to have a few friends willing to rip my work to shreds. In the best way, of course. 😉

    But yes. It’s impossible to find all our own mistakes. One of the hardest things for me isn’t figuring out what is wrong as much as figuring out how to *fix* what’s wrong.

    I’m so thankful for editors and their critical eyes!

    • Me too, Becca! I find I usually have the opposite problem from what you’re describing: I can’t see where something’s gone awry…but once someone points it out to me, it’s not too long before I have some good ideas (sometimes too many!) of how to fix it.

      And yes — hallelujah for novel-shredding friends. ; )

  4. That sounds like great advice. A question, though: how does a relatively new, self-published writer go about finding someone who can give their work a professional overhaul? And on a self-published budget? It’s tough to figure out where to start!

    • Jason, that is an excellent question — and, unfortunately, one I don’t have an easy answer for. I’ve become part of a small indie publishing company that started out as a group of friends and acquaintances editing each other’s work. Everything we do follows the self-publishing process, except that we’re all working on it together. I can see where “going it alone” would be much more difficult.

      I’m very late in responding to your comment, but perhaps that’s a blessing in disguise: because my friend, fellow writer, fellow editor, and publisher Aaron Pogue just blogged about this subject today. His post is here: On Self-Publishing: How to Start. I highly recommend clicking through and reading it; you should be able to glean some useful information!

      Much success, and thanks for dropping in!

  5. Gemma says:

    I agree with you. Editors are like an annoying mom at the morning telling you to get and do what you have to do for the day.

    • Yes, and if we don’t listen to them, we end up oversleeping and not having a clue where we’re supposed to be or what we’re supposed to do! ; ) Thanks for visiting and commenting, Gemma.

  6. How did I miss this post? If only all writers thought this way. I’ve said more than once, “The writer who serves as his own editor has a fool for a client.”

    It’s called tough love. Nothing is more infuriating/frustrating/heartbreaking to me than reading a bad review of a book I’ve edited where the reviewer tells the author the same thing I did only to have my advice ignored.

    • “The writer who serves as his own editor has a fool for a client.” Ha! I love it.

      LL, I hear ya. We ignore our editors at our own peril. I think some writers need that negative experience, though, if only to teach them that they truly are incapable of recognizing the flaws in their work. Some, sadly, probably won’t learn the lesson even after multiple bad experiences. But there are those of us out here who *do* get it, I promise! ; )

      Thanks for commenting. I’m late replying, but you put a smile on my face!

  7. Amber says:

    This is actually one of the least appreciated aspect of writing (for some people). It is because they never consider an editor necessary, or that they are just too conceited.

    How wrong they are.

    • Amber, I agree: Getting edited is definitely not a popular concept among many writers, and with some, the basic problem is, indeed, conceit. But I think lack of experience plays a major role as well. When I was a young writer, I didn’t have the knowledge or experience to identify the problems in my own work, or even to realize that there were problems! As far as I could tell, my work didn’t have any flaws, so it never occurred to me to seek out an editor. Time, education, and practice taught me the error of my ways. ; )

      Thanks so much for dropping by to read and comment!

  8. Brittany says:

    Congrats to your pregnancy and hope you are coping well enough now. Anyway, you have a very good point regarding the editors. For me, they are like your parents who will say things that they know and you know will cause you good benefits like being a much better writer. It is always better to learn from others because at least, you have a pretty good idea that you are on the road to perfection. 🙂

    • Thanks, Brittany — I’m feeling lots better. And I agree 100%: Editors really are like no-nonsense parents sometimes! We might not like the medicine they dish out, but our writing will certainly be the healthier for it. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  9. […] Here’s another great blog post about editing and accepting edits. […]

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