In the best of times, editors nurture talent and provide emotional as well as editorial support. They keep your secrets. And when you ask them, on your deathbed, to burn all your remaining notebooks (a la Franz Kafka) they do not burn them. They edit them, instead, and have them published.
In the worst of times, there are knock-down drag-outs, with authors unwilling cut pages or make changes or see things from a different perspective. Edgar Allan Poe and his editor Rufus Wilmot Griswold (what a great name!) shared a special hatred, routinely attacking each other in print and in their shared professional circle.
Then there’s Charles Dickens who named his tenth and final son after his editor.
As both scribe and reviser, what kind of relationship do you have with your editor. And do you know when to tell her to finally back off?
Here are three ways to improve your relationship with your editor.
Have a conversation writer to editor…
“Editing with a writer is a joyous collaboration—not even a collaboration, but a conversation, a colloquy, a back-and-forth,” Michael Pietsch, David Foster Wallace’s editor, once said.
Have you and your editor clearly communicated about the purpose of the piece of writing?
are you in agreement about when an article conveys the message fully enough that it can be understood by the readers? Has your editor fully understood your initial vision?
The purpose of the writer-editor relationship is that: to deliver a clear message. Because in the end, the message attempting to be delivered is not about you and your editor. It is about your readers. Are you both willing to get out of the way?
Decide if you’re “fluent” yet…
Have you gotten enough practice writing yet to deem yourself capable of toning down the self-criticism and letting the editor do her work effectively in one or two passes?
The final draft is a totally subjective perception. How accepting are you of welcoming your editor’s subjective belief that the piece of writing has reached its final draft?
Look at your editorial history. You’ve likely created work that you’re proud of. Investigate your process on these pieces. You might find that the pieces that had the most impact on your readers, or those of which you are proudest, might have come easily. This is where you learn to trust yourself and your fluency.
Step away from the computer. Take your fingers off the keys, hands in the air, and back away slowly.
Have you gotten enough distance from the work? When you’ve picked up your work again, ask yourself if what you are reading reflects the original vision you had before you started.
When you force yourself to sit through the agony of another hour, half-hour, minute, of pushing those words out, you’re basically killing your editor. She’s blind, and mute. And you’re deaf. Step away and let everyone come back to life. New perspectives will be born.
What are some indicators that let you know you can stop editing and contently submit to “completion?” Which one of these tactics will you implement the next time you sit down to write?