Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Incorporate Editor

Good editors don't tread on you or your sacred process.
To be incorporate is to be united or mixed, not having a material body. That’s what, lately, I have realized is the best role an editor can have with his client. The idea is of an invisible influence upon the hand of the writer in the sense that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, that editor and writer work as one, to singular purpose.

It’s fascinating to me to be able to continue to learn as life goes on. I have a passion for it, though I never was really a good student in the classroom—too many questions on too many divergent rabbit trails—but a life lived contends against the most forcible teacher known, and one doesn’t go far without learning something.

And sometimes it comes in degrees, like it did for me just the other day. It wasn’t an epiphany, just a realization. Finishing up a rather large editing project, I realized how integral to the process of publishing and writing an editor really is. This isn’t to glorify the editor, either. It’s just to say that certain things that happen in life are archetypal, like the truth that two heads are better than one, that we cannot achieve excellence without sharing our ideas with people who can help us develop them into something beyond us; something transcendent, something that’s only producible by more than one person.

This is why so many writers fail before they start: because they miss that connection with a competent editor. Their work is passable as-is, but it’s not exemplary. And so many writers want the logical end that their hard work can provide (if done well), but they don’t perceive the steps that will take them there, ending up instead on a siding somewhere out of the way of any chance of real success. The author writes the book, but the editor tunes the writing in the same way that the cover artist tunes its marketability and mass appeal.

Look at writing then as a team sport, or as an artist laying down tracks in the studio for a new record. There’s a production team working hard behind every writer with a finished book. Far from being segregate or abstract, the editor is integral to the production process—when things are working correctly—and he performs his job with confidence and boldness, deleting, adding, correcting, making suggestions, asking questions, finding holes in the plot, wondering why characters are doing or not doing certain things, and on and on. And if the editor finds flaws, Dear Writer, rejoice. Even guys like James Patterson can’t do what they do without theirs.

This business of ‘self-editing’ is a bit risky. We’re meant to share our work with people who can make it better alongside us. For a writer to miss his connection with a good editor is a shame. His work won’t ever be what it could be…what it should be. Writers: a good editor is far more important than a publisher. If the effort writers exerted on shopping their manuscripts to publishers was instead used on vetting a competent editor, I personally believe things would be different for lots of us. Unfortunately the world is upside down.

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