I work with some terrific editors who understand the subtle difference between directing a writer and correcting their work. Both are important; and both are vital to a successful story. But the secret to that success lies in understanding when and where to apply each skill in practice.
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. It is objective and based on understood norms.
Directive editing is not so simple, not so cut and dried. 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 and 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 individuals have to be adults throughout what can be a painful process.
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.” There can be many reasons:
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 discover the what they think “needs cleaning up” is really a giant landfill of a mess.
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. And, the better they do their job, the more momentary pain you will experience.
Good editors will not try to re-write your 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 you get a 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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