The Editor

One of the things I’ve learned since I started writing more is this: getting criticism on your writing sucks. It’s never easy to take, no matter how nicely phrased it is.

It hurts so much because it’s so personally directed – ultimately the criticism is of you and your writing ability. But all writers (and other creative people, though I can’t speak to that personally) subject themselves to this torture of critical feedback, because they know that it will help them make their work better.

At least, that’s the idea. That being said, just as there are better and worse writers, there are also better and worse editors. A good editor can tell a writer exactly where their weakness lies in an individual work and throughout their writing, and can suggest ways to correct it. A good editor doesn’t say “this is bad – make it better.” They say things like: ” you should clarify this idea with some concrete examples” and “remember your audience – maybe it’s inappropriate to swear in your children’s book.”

An editor’s skill is measured by how successfully they can point out room for improvement to the writer — by how constructive their criticism is.

Of course, we’ve all heard the term ‘constructive criticism’ – but I think we’ve heard it to the point that it’s become synonymous with any kind of criticism at all. But criticism can be uninformed, unhelpful, and unjustified as often as it is constructive. When we take all criticism to heart — the bad and the good — we not only do ourselves a disservice by incorporating the faulty ideas of bad editors into our writing, but we disrespect the efforts and skills of the good editors whose feedback is much more worthy of our consideration.

Writers must remember that just because somebody is in the authoritative position of judging and responding to your writing does not mean that what they have to say about it will necessarily be worthwhile.

Contrary to popular belief, bad editors do exist, and they are fueled by the editing jobs they keep getting from writers who think any editing is good editing. But if we stop paying attention to them, maybe they will go away.

* * *

There are things you can do to cultivate good editing, too.

Although this process might be a little different for others (read: for people who actually get paid to write), I mainly enlist the efforts of my friends to get feedback on my work. Although they aren’t professional or over the age of 25 (besides my dad, who is both professional and over the age of 25), the few people I ask to edit my writing are very smart, very kind folks, who care about my feelings and my writing. Although they might not always be able to answer my question “should I put a colon or a semicolon here?”, they will reliably give me some ideas as to what I can do to make my writing better.

Although it may sound like a bad idea to ask the people you love to point out the flaws in your work, it’s actually quite helpful to have some kind of pre-existing relationship between you and your editor. It’s so much easier to talk about your vulnerabilities with somebody you know and trust, and they will be far more willing to put their time and effort into helping you than someone who doesn’t know you enough to care. Plus, enlisting the labor of your friends is cheap (but shouldn’t be free – you should repay them by editing some of their writing in turn, or by promising you’ll go see their stupid community theater play or something).

Whether or not your editor is somebody you hang with on the weekends, though, you should definitely form a working relationship with them if they’re going to continue editing your writing. You should get to know their tendencies and preferences as an editor, and they should pick up on your style and your typical points of weakness. And pay attention to their errors, too: especially if they’re not professional editors, they might not catch some of your grammatical or syntactical mistakes. Or worse, they might make “corrections” to your writing that are actually not correct, such as removing a hyphen from a word that really should be hyphenated. Keep track of stuff like this and give feedback to each other, and you should be able to form understandings of each others’ work that allows for a productive and constantly improving writer/editor relationship. And that’s how we become better writers and editors, folks.


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