Your editor and you: the most necessary relationship you’ll ever have
To the people I’ve asked to read and edit my work: I hate you. I’m also in love with you, in awe of your brilliance and totally bowled over by everything you’ve said. But really, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. And by the way, can I kiss your feet? Buy you a drink? Run you over with a large truck and leave you for dead?
Sound confusing? Writing with an editor, whether professionally or just having a friend read and critique, is probably one of the most conflicted relationships there is. At least, it better be.
I sat down with the marked-up copy of 20 pages of my current manuscript today with a mix of excitement and trepidation. This is the first time a new set of eyes is reading over this particular bit, and I was eager to see what she had to say.
After some cursing, a little head-banging and a serious consideration of whether 2 p.m. on a Sunday is too early to start drinking, I threw them aside with that excitement transformed into inspiration, trepidation into ire and one phrase replaying through my head, “Why didn’t I see that before?”
My high school and college self never believed my teachers when they tried to emphasize the value of having another person read your work. “You can’t possibly catch all the mistakes you’ll make,” they said. “A fresh set of eyes is necessary to see the difference between what you thought you wrote and what you actually did write.”
It’s true, folks. You probably didn’t hear it here first, but I’m going to stand up on my soapbox and say it: your editor is your best friend and your worst enemy and having someone else read your stuff is the best and worst and most necessary experience a writer can have.
And the thing that really grinds my gears? The angel/demon reading my manuscript right now is abso-friggin-lutely brilliant. The material is tighter, cleaner and richer even just from one round of revisions, post-read. Do I agree with every note she made? No, of course not. But there’s incredible value in thinking about what she found problematic because if one person does, so will future readers. Having someone else read and mark up my material reveals all of those issues I should have seen myself but didn’t, problems that leap from the page and smack me in the face, words I should have omitted, revelations I thought I made, all of those millions of things we all think we can catch, but don’t.
Yes, it’s hard to show another person an unfinished product. Humbling, too. But the more I work with other people reading my stuff before it’s ready to go, the more I see the value in it. No matter how vicious of an editor I can be, someone else is always, always more so. And sure, there’s lots of paper-throwing. Some screaming at a person who I’m really, really glad isn’t actually there to get earfuls of my vitriol. Plenty of explaining myself to the white sheets of paper scribbled over in purple. They can’t hear me, and neither can the person who wrote the scribbles, but you know what I’ve noticed? If I have to explain myself to them, then the writing wasn’t clear in the first place. There’s real, definite value in learning that.
If there’s one piece of advice I can give to writers everywhere: get off your pedestal, come out of your Dickensonian woods and swallow the pride and fear that every writer has surrounding her own work and give it to someone to read. It’s going to hurt like heck. It’s going to make you want to scream and cry and sit down and bang out some more, as soon as you get the road grit out of your wounds. Because if there’s one thing being edited makes me want to do is get less edited next time. There’s no better inspiration than that.