Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Good Editor & The Great Editor

OR:  A Good Editor is Hard to Find, a Great Editor is Harder Still to Find

by Robert W. Walker

Nothing is harder for a writer to see clearly than his or her own work, to look at it objectively and with laserlike precision so as to make those all important rewrites and to live by the credo that Writing is Rewriting. It is no small task to remove the emotional ties to your book and look on it with a cold, sure eye--with an eye to seeing its flaws. Hard to wear the editor's hat on your own work, not unlike the surgeon who must operate on his own child.

We might just as well be looped on drugs or alcohol to find our way through our own emotional baggage when it comes to our baby--our manuscript, but it does get easier with experience, lots of experience until we start to put into practice all we have ever learned from our editors--every line they ever corrected. We take them all to heart. We learn. Down to how the word HAD is best used and when to take it out if we are paying close, close attention to what our editors over the years have had to say about our style, our sentence structure, our pattern errors, our Voice --and trust me every element of the story from dialogue to details to setting to character development. All of it. And each correction is a little sling and arrow, painful to endure and even more painful because the change or correction is obvious now and so in keeping with the book, and inescapable and truly needed.

Good editors catch errors on every page, and great editors make the book sing at a higher pitch. An excellent editor like an excellent reference librarian is a gem and a wonder and a pleasure to work with. Whenever I edit another person's book, I make every change not for the good of the author but for the good of the book, the betterment of the story. It doe not mean the voice need be lost but rather improved, honed, made tighter and less rambling, less seemingly overblown or bloated.
However, suppose the voice is so bad it can not be fixed?  So confusing there is no repariting it.  If sentences are choking on passive constructions and unneeded prepositional phrases that cause reader confusion or stumbling, and if the author's authorial voice is less than authorial, say even wishy-washy or equivocating and chockful of qualifiers and lacks absolute control over the material, then it is unlikely an editor can repair it. But most great editors can and will take on such challenges. An editor is as passionate about your book as you are when she or he is in the throes of massaging it and working it over and beating the hell out of it until it is molded and kneaded just right.

Please do leave a comment or question!

Rob Walker

The Knife Editing Services

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap


Morgan Mandel said...

A great editor can be objective. A great author can be also, but the cards are stacked against the author. It's hard to see the whole picture from someone else's point of view when it's so close to your heart.

That's why great critique partners or groups are important. After that, get yourself an editor. That's what I did for Killer Career and I don't regret spending that extra bit of money to refine my manuscript.

Morgan Mandel

Deb Larson said...

I agree.
Editors make a good story better!
It's win-win all around.
DL Larson

Debra St. John said...

You are so right on the importance of a good editor.

I am very fortunate in that area. My editor, Kat O'Shea, not only finds those pesky errors on the page, but really puts a lot more than that into her work. Working with her has really helped me take my writing up a notch or two!

Anonymous said...

Interesting post.

I've developed two good "early readers." They go through my mscpt FIRST, and they are not writers - - but they're my first line of defense.

As far as editors, I was fortunate to have a great one on my first book. She taught me so much that I created an EDIT sheet of my most frequent errors, which I now use on subsequent manuscripts. Now I've been paired with two different editors for my next four books who have FANTASTIC reputations, so I'm not worried at all. They'll keep me in line. Get it? In line . . .

Rob Walker said...

I too have been extremely lucky to have worked with the editors I have had over the years; leaarned so much from them in fact that I now ghost write and edit on the side via my Knife Services...autopsy for your book, hhheheheh. However, I have run into a few editors I have no idea how they got their jobs...