Monday, April 8, 2013

Having It Both Ways

I am both writer and editor.

Being a writer makes me a better editor, too. Not because it makes me a better writer--oh, no, I don't delude myself in that--but because I understand what a writer is going through during the editing process. Though I've taught English for 20 years, I have never forgotten the feeling of receiving an essay back--with comments and a grade--assessing the effectiveness of what I've written.

I know what a writer wants when he or she has me edit. That is the very thing which makes editing so hard. The writer wants two things, always two things. The problem is that these two things do not exist together. One cannot have it "both ways," so to speak. In fact, the very act of seeking professional editing guarantees that one will not receive one of the things one desires most.

What do writers want? Well, if writers are willing to spend hundreds of dollars having me edit a novel, it's because they want someone to examine their work for holes, errors, weaknesses--anything that might lose a reader's interest, or get in the way of the suspense, or confuse, or irritate. They want my insight--as an honest, knowledgeable outside reader--to help them see what they can't see on their own, so that they can fix it.

And that is no problem.

But that is not only what writers want. I would say that this is only a practical want. What writers want, deep in the recesses of the most secret part of their hearts, is something else entirely.

We all want it. We want it in other areas of our lives. It's called validation. Appreciation. That joy others express when they view something we do as wonderful.

What my poor authors want is for me to write back and tell them I would edit their work, but it's already perfect as it is--that I wouldn't change a thing, and I'm sending back their check in the mail this very day.

But if I told them that, I wouldn't be doing my job. My job is to tell them what isn't good. Sure, I also get to tell them what is good, and I do, but they don't need to know that as much as they need to see what isn't. I might be able to suggest effective ways to fix what isn't good, but that doesn't make it hurt any less.

Believe me, though. I know it. I know it because I am there, too. That's why I have sat on four completed novels all this time. I go back to my work, time after time, and I see that it still isn't ready, that it still needs work.

That is why I don't trust the reader who only sends me good feedback. I know the truth, and I know this reader isn't telling me the truth.

She is only telling me what, deep in my heart, I really want to hear.

But that is not enough.

1 comment:

  1. Ironically enough, though I'm not an editor, that's what I do, too. I look at someone else's baby, his blood, sweat and tears poured into a design or a concept or a piece of hardware and I tell him what's wrong with it, why it won't work, won't be safe enough and, if possible, what he can do to change it.

    It doesn't make me popular, but it's very very vital.