I’ve spent the last two months doing more deep editing than I ever thought possible… and it wasn’t even for my own books (well, I did complete a revision on my book, but that’s beside the point).
I had to read several drafts, write edit letters, brainstorm in totally out of the box ways, and locate plot holes, character inconsistencies, define character arcs, sharpen plot devices, tighten pacing, motivation, setting…
I grew as a writer myself as I learned to recognize things in other people’s writing that could be tightened and improved. It was a lot of work, but a ton of fun!
I also have a WHOLE new respect for agents and editors as they acquire manuscripts. I have read each of my mentees’ books 3-4 times over the last two months. My own agent has read 5 different drafts of one of my books. You have to LOVE a manuscript like something fierce to be able to read it that many times without having your eyeballs begin to bleed. That’s why they’re so picky about what they acquire.
But all this editing got me thinking about the role of an editor. Not an editor at a publisher, mind you, but someone you’re either paying or asking to help you take your manuscript to the next level.
As an editor, once you fall into the cadence of a manuscript and begin pulling back the skin to get to the marrow of the story, it almost starts to feel like you’re the one writing it. Like you’re the one who knows the character best. You’re the one who created that world.
But you’re not.
An editor’s role isn’t to get the author to write the story the editor would write.
An editor is there to guide you, not write through you.
I can give ideas for plot fixes, I can say, “hmm, I’m not sure this character would react like this,” but in the end, the writer is who knows the story best. The writer is the one who crafts the voice in a piece of dialogue. They are the one that hides the red herrings and the one that crafts the big reveal. You suggest, they implement (and FYI, suggesting is WAY easier than implementing — so no matter how hard you work as an editor, the writer works twice as hard to execute your notes.)
If I, as an editor, try too hard to push my view of the manuscript, I’m going to end up breaking the book.
I also need to be careful because my opinion is weighted heavily and I don’t want my mentees to make decisions they don’t feel comfortable with because they don’t want to tell me no. It’s a fine balancing act of confidence and respect.
I am lucky enough to have an agent who is extremely editorial, yet extremely respectful of my role as the author. Her insight and editing has been invaluable, but her support of my story is what makes it work between us.
So the moral of the story is editors are SO important, but they should always be there to help you improve the story, not write through you.