In praise of editing and editors

There are a lot of writers out there today. The Internet has made it easy for folks to get their words out their for consumption — there’s an insatiable demand for “content” (ugh…it’s writing, dammit!) on any number of sites, for one. Blogs can be set up in mere minutes. And self-publishing has made it relatively simple for an author to get his or her work out there.

These are all good things, mind you. I’m not going to complain about this one whit, nor am I gonna pass judgment on this new influx of post-Internet writers. They’re either good or they’re not, but judge them on the merits, not how they got there.

Yet if there’s one thing that kind of irks/concerns me, it’s the seemingly not-insignificant number of writers who relish putting their words out there without an editor. “I don’t need an editor.” “Editors will only mess up what I’m trying to do here.” “I already know how to write.”

*stares boggle-eyed*

I’ve been writing professionally now for more than 22 years. I’ve been edited by literally dozens of people. I’ve had five different people give my fiction a thorough editing. And you know what? I love editors. I love being edited. Bring it on!

Writing is highly subjective. There are likely an infinite number of ways to create a complex piece of writing, and the number of reactions to said writing roughly equals the number of people who have read it. There is no one right answer. Even stuff I’ve read that I’ve felt was objectively bad — indeed, the very Platonic ideal of bad writing — might very well have had a positive reaction out of someone else.

“Ha! You just proved my point! Editing is just someone’s subjective take on my writing. They could be wrong!”

Er, no, not really, Disembodied Voice Example. There is no wrong. Your writing isn’t wrong, but neither is the editor’s opinion. Both are potentially valid. Schrodinger would have a field day with this.

What editors have are opinions, but more importantly, they’re generally very well informed opinions. Good editors have been at it a while. They have a sense of what a piece of writing is supposed to do and, in their estimation, how well a writer gets there. In the amount of time it took you to write an essay/article/short story/novel, they’ve probably edited a half-dozen or more.

And since it’s likely that they’re paid to edit, they have a vested self-interest in getting it right on behalf of the targeted audience. They do it every day, and they work hard at it.

So hopefully this establishes that editors’ opinions on your writing are valid and useful in helping your work reach its audience in the most effective way possible. That’s the first benefit. The second: You get to learn.

My first fiction editor was my agent, Sara Megibow, who basically taught me the ins-and-outs of writing a novel, because all I had going for me at submission was a great idea, years of experience in journalism…and a sub-par draft of a novel. Once we got the book that would become The Daedalus Incident whipped into shape and it was acquired by Night Shade Books, Ross Lockhart came in and basically made it even better. I learned so much from him as  well.

Cory Allyn was my editor on The Enceladus Crisis and The Venusian Gambit, the latter of which got a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Suffice it to say, he earned his paycheck there. Great suggestions and ideas, a hawk’s eye for detail. I found Alex Shvartsman to be a most excellent editor as well, given that “Confessions of an Interplanetary Art Fraud” was my first venture into humor. And Jeff Seymour did a fantastic job turning The Gravity of the Affair into a fine novella — my first foray into that format.

That doesn’t even count all the folks who edited me throughout my years in journalism. I learned something from each and every one of them — and if you’re reading this and ever edited anything I wrote, hey…thank you. I appreciate it.

Editors aren’t there to be reductive or obstinate. They’re there to make the writing better. If you accept that and work with them, you may just find they can also make you a better writer, too. You may not always agree — I know Cory wasn’t a fan of the prologues in the books he edited, for example — but even in the consideration of the opinion, there’s learning to be had.

I get, of course, that if you’re self-publishing or otherwise on a shoestring, you can’t afford a top-notch professional editor. But your friends and fellow writers can help there. Folks need to read your stuff to see if you’re doing what you think you’re doing with it; the writer’s mind is the worst sort of echo-chamber. Despite what you may think, every word is not gold.

It can take a certain humility at times to accept that you need editing in general, or that an editor was right about something that you really, really thought was perfect. But it’s worth it.

Go forth and write. And then get edited.

(By the way, while this post was all about top-line editors, I have just as much love for copyeditors. Even when you think your piece is clean as the driven snow, they will always save you from the ugliest typos/grammatical errors/continuity snafus.)


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