May 23

Warning: You and Your Editor May Disagree

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAThe quote from Gloria Steinem on the right is just about how I feel right now. I have had my novel returned by the editor, with a diplomatic request that I put in more description.

And of course, I don’t want to do it. It’s certainly enough description for me! But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? As writers, if we write only for ourselves, our material doesn’t have to be clear, it doesn’t have to be honest, it doesn’t have to be free of libelous statements, it doesn’t have to be original.

But if we are trying to communicate to another person, we need to write in such a way as to please them, not ourselves. We may know what we’re talking about, but does the reader know? If they don’t know, why will they bother to continue to read our nonsense, when there is so much other material out there that is readable? That fits in with the previous quote I had up there on the right, from C.S. Lewis: “The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean.”

So when your editor asks you to make changes, don’t resist. It is probably an indicator that you are not communicating well. Think through what is being said about your writing, and let some air out of your ego if necessary (and yes, it usually is necessary).

That doesn’t mean you should always accept everything your editor suggests. Sometimes an editor will make suggestions that really won’t work. Why? Not because you have a bad editor, but for the very reason you didn’t communicate in the first place: the editor doesn’t know what you are trying to say.

I’ve seen that many a time on the other side of the desk, as an editor myself. For example, I may ask an author to remove a paragraph because it takes the piece off on a tangent. The author sees what I mean; the material is in the wrong place. But the author also sees (more clearly than I do) that the offending paragraph contains vital information—it’s just poorly phrased and at the wrong spot in the piece. So the author, instead of deleting the information, rewrites it and then moves it to a more appropriate place. And then we’re both happy.

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Posted May 23, 2013 by Dave Fessenden in category "Uncategorized


  1. By Mary on

    Who on earth would dare to disagree with you, Dave?? 😉

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