After spending some time on writing forums, I’ve notice there are a lot of writers who lament the changes their editors have made, claiming that their original voice has been squandered in the editing process. Similarly, I’ve heard editors complain about the “brain dump” that some writers produce, expecting their editors to be mind readers when it comes to organizing their ideas. Personally, I think both groups can be a little more charitable to one another if they understand each party’s point of view. A lot of what I’m hearing amounts to how and when to give constructive criticism, and the respective roles which writers and editors must undertake.
For writers, it’s important to keep in mind what exactly it is that an editor does: it’s their job to point out errors in the text. It’s true that your editor should be on your side, but they are not your best friend offering unconditional love and support. They’re much more like a professional mentor, dedicated to helping you succeed and offering constructive feedback when applicable. So when an editor points out flaws in your writing, whether it’s grammar or construction, it’s so that your writing can become the best it can be. In this case, it’s important to detach from the manuscript (“kill your darlings” as writer Arthur Quiller-Couch once said*) and trust that your editor will guide you through the revision process. That said, if you find your working relationship with your editor too uncomfortable, and you feel the need to switch to someone who really “gets you”, don’t feel bad. The relationship between author and editor should ideally be a harmonious one. Just be sure to pay your previous editor for their time!
To the editors: make sure you’re upfront with your clients about your boundaries and expectations. Being in a creative business, it’s only natural that you will come across clients who have a different work ethic than you’re used to. That said, if you know that your potential client’s manuscript is still very much in the developmental phase, or will require a heavier edit than you feel qualified to do, be as upfront about this as possible. Ideally, editors should only work on a manuscript when it’s in its final draft, unless they are also editing for content.
With these tips in mind, both writers and editors can work towards a position of mutual respect and understanding. As always, feel free to comment below or on my Facebook page.
*Contrary to what a lot of writers believe, the phrase “kill your darlings” did not originate from William Faulkner, Oscar Wilde, Chekov, or Stephen King. The earliest known use of the phrase was from writer Arthur Quiller-Couch in his 1914 Cambridge lectures entitled “On the Art of Writing”. Read more about this here.