In Praise of Editors

I love editors. I love them in theory and practice. In general and particular. Right now, every single editor I work with is awesome. And every single one of them would’ve eaten that previous sentence for lunch.

In fact, I wouldn’t dare file a story to any of them with “awesome” in it, except as a joke (or if I were really, really tired). Besides, the editors I work with know me well enough to know that “awesome” isn’t a word I’d use. That kind of familiarity is … well, it’s awesome!

Sure, there have been editors I didn’t get along with for various reasons.

Sometimes an editor wants something very specific, but doesn’t articulate exactly what it is that he or she wants. Freelance writer and designer Will Hindmarch calls this the “bring me a rock” scenario. It goes something like this:

Editor: “Bring me a rock.”

Writer: “Here’s a rock. I found it just for you!”

Editor: “I want a different rock.”

Writer: “Here’s another rock. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Editor: “Not that rock. Bring me a rock.”

Writer: “???”

Sometimes editor states very clearly what he or she wants and I don’t really listen.

Editor: “Bring me a rock.”

Writer: “Here’s that fish you wanted! Isn’t it neat?”

The latter example is all my fault. I can own that. And I also own a drawer (actually, a digital file folder) full of fish that have yet to find a place to swim. Want one? I’m giving them away free of charge.

I know the rules, the dos and don’ts of the writer/editor relationship. I’ve written about those rules and taught them in classes. I’ve even followed them (most of the time) since my first newspaper job over twenty years ago.

I’ve also broken just about every one of the rules and tried my darndest to learn from my mistakes.

Some of us, however, are slower learners than others. Being life-long learners, sometimes, has more to do with how slowly we learn than with the infinite scope of our curiosity.

The best thing about the editors I work with (other than their patience) is that every last one of them calls me on my BS and, for the most part, doesn’t hold that very same BS against me.

And that is so, so awesome.

I admit it: sometimes I blow deadlines or turn stories in so close to the print run that the editors involved have no time even to copy edit them. Sometimes I forget to update my editors or I drop completely off the grid. Sometimes I need to be re-angled multiple times. Sometimes my stories are, shall we say, structurally unsound, organizationally baffling, epically confounding. And I get wordy, especially when I’m tired. If I have too little to do, I procrastinate. I pitch stories impulsively. Heck, I even space out on sending in the invoices. And, let’s just face it: my comma usage is definitely not awesome.

I don’t do these things all the time, but for most editors once is enough. I should know better. I should do better. I should be a better writing professional.

That’s what an editor does. Pushes us to be better writers. Demands our best and deserves to get it.

Writers need editors. And I don’t just mean aspiring and new writers. Every writer. Each and every one of us needs editors.

Editors pull us out of our own heads, gives us fresh perspectives on our work while it’s still growing. Editors help us see with fresh eyes. They inspire us, have faith in us. They lend us their skill and the benefit of their experience. They teach us to be better writers … if we listen, if we keep our eyes and ears and egos open to what they have to offer.

How could we not love someone whose job it is to help make what we’ve written better?

Do I have an idealized view of editors? Maybe. Do I have an idealized view of the editors I work with? Not at all. They are human, every last one of them. They are imperfect. They get cranky. Annoyed. That’s all part of the give and take, the human interaction, the creative process.

Editors are awesome. And we writers should treat them as such. We should open up a document file or pull out a pen and some paper this very moment and write them some of the cleanest, smoothest, most on-topic copy we’ve ever written. Flesh it out. Develop it. Dig deep and push past clichés.

When we have something worthy, we should send it in early, receive edits as though they were birthday gifts, revise as though possessed by a higher being, and file glorious final drafts.

I’m not being sarcastic, here. I’m not kidding. These people play a vital role in what we do as writers. We should treat them as accordingly.