Writer & Editor: The Importance of Teamwork
Understanding the difference between correction and direction.
I work with some terrific editors. And not just because the keep feeding me work (which, in turn, allows me to keep feeding my family). That’s huge, of course, but the best benefit of working with these particular folks is that they understand the difference between directing a writer and correcting a writer.
Both are important and, dare I say, both are vital to a successful story. But the secret to that success lies in understanding when and where to apply each. And in being willing to do so.
Correction is, in general, the easiest to define. Take something wrong, invalid or mistaken and make it right, valid and accurate. But this involves much more than a quick spelling or grammar check. Editorial correction can apply to form, function, content or context. But, all things considered, it is, for the most part, a question of right and wrong. It is objective and based on pervasive industry norms.
Directive editing is not so simple, so cut and dry. Here’s what my friend, Penny Fletcher, noted author and fantastic editor, has to say about the editorial direction process:
“Directive editing involves a lot of one-on-one work, developing plots, characters, dialogue and settings. These are the make or break elements that can be the difference between getting published or getting rejected. Authors should think of this process as story development, not correction.”
What Penny is saying here is that directive editing requires some creative and constructive give and take between the writer and the editor. To make this work, both indviduals have to be adults throughout what can be a painful process. And, when I say this, I’m looking squarely at you, Newbie Writer.
Yes, it hurts when your editor calls you up to tell you a particular setting or section or plot point just doesn’t work. Many first time authors get so upset by the criticism they forget to listen to the “why.” And that’s the most important part.
- Does it feel too surreal, is it too different from the vibe and feel of the rest of the work? Does it slow down the plot or create confusion?
- Does the dialogue feel real or forced or farcical?
- What, exactly, is causing the editor to offer direction?
If you get offended when someone you hired to be honest with you wants to apply a few grace notes to “your baby” you will miss out on a truly wonderful opportunity to create something that is infinitely better than the sum of its parts.
Consider this…your editor is only doing what she is paid to do. It’s not personal. And, believe me, it can be difficult. As an editor, you understand that people are entrusting you with their heart and soul when they hand over that manuscript. More than a few times I’ve had writers inform me that “the manuscript is done, it just needs a little cleaning up” only to dig in and realize the story needed to be completely reworked.
The truth is, until you have established yourself as an author, you really don’t know whether or not a story is “ready.” And, if you don’t trust your editor, you may never learn.
Remember these keys:
- Good editors are there to serve writers. They want you to be successful. The better job they do, the better your work will be.
- Good editor will not try to re-write your entire story, however they will make changes and suggestions that allow you to improve. And, if your story needs to be re-written, they will tell you.
- Good editors are on your team and are working hard to see your side win. Even when they are being critical, they are being constructive.
- Good editors will be specific. If an editor offers general advice but does not give you specific examples or specific direction, what they have done is offer an opinion, not edit a story. So, don’t be afraid to ask for specific suggestions. It will only help you as a writer.
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