For Monday, February 1, 2016:
“Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”
Colette – CASUAL CHANCE, 1964
One of the things I love most about editing is that I get to read two or three books – sometimes more – with each project. I read the initial manuscript, of course, but then, as I work with the author, each revision round of edits results in a new or different book.
We all love our own words. There’s nothing wrong with that – they’re our ‘babies.’ Some of us even love the process of putting those words to paper. What can be hard is to judge and evaluate whether those particular words are the best ones for the story in which they’re placed. Are they in the right order, do they set an appropriate pace, do they develop the plot?
If not, then they need to go. Maybe not entirely. Maybe some words need to go elsewhere in the story, or in the mouth of a different, or even a new, character. Perhaps the concept of a word is right, but a synonym will convey a nuance that’s better. Sometimes, though, they do need to be taken out completely.
Some of us writers are better than others at such evaluations in our initial edits before we submit a manuscript to an editor, but a good editor will pick up on even minor changes that will benefit the story, the characters, and the intent of the plot. I believe this is the sign of a good editor: does s/he work on behalf of the story or the author?
There will be times, of course, when an editor should let the author have the last word – it’s his or her work, after all, and if s/he’s not comfortable with a proposed change, that’s her prerogative. The key is to develop a solid relationship between author and editor so there can be substantive conversations all the way along. As long as I’m confident the author is focused on the book’s and characters’ well-being over his or her own words, I’m willing to let go of my own suggestions on occasion.
I work so your book becomes as beloved to you-the-author as the words of the first submission. If you find someone to whom you can ‘entrust your words who cares as much about your words’ as you do, then you have found a gem. Your book will benefit each step of the way to final development – and if I’m your editor, I get to enjoy each and every version as if it’s brand new.