The editor is your enemy

Wedge is an editor, but he fears editors. How do you feel about people editing your work?

Unless you’re publishing directly to your own website (as I am right now), your writing has to pass under the editor’s eyes and pass muster. Financial and physical constraints aside, the final challenge to any writing’s freedom is the editor, working on behalf of the publisher.

How should we approach these devils? How might we consider their role, their power and their prerogative to cut swathes of material and play with our tenses?

I’m an editor in my professional life, and I’m not in any position to black-ball any writer or throw crumpled balls of others’ work into the waste paper basket. My role is new; my company is unused to having an editor and content writers (author is too grand a term for these middle-managers who email me drivel) are stunned that I want to re-draft their piece. The very idea that I might challenge their grasp of English or indeed, their understanding of how their staff will feel when they read a single sentence explaining that their free coffee will now cost them twenty-five pence a cup…

Corporate Communications and Internal Communications (my specialty) lie within a funny field between the city of Business Speak and the village of Good English. Content writers often forget to include the context needed to understand their latest pronouncement and so their readers dump the memo or click off from the intranet page with no idea that they are losing their free coffee, and will have to bring their own sugar from now on. As an editor, it’s my duty to put myself in the receivers’ shoes (all 10,000 of them; shoes I mean) and reflect on how the message might be understood, or not.

As an editor, I want to collaborate with the content writer (often an expert in their field) to craft an article, announcement, bulletin or story that will address the needs of the reader. I may have a few ideas about punctuation, syntax and tone that the content author has little comprehension of, but in all fairness to what I do, I just polish their message and make sure there’s enough context to allow an ignorant itinerant worker to know the skinny within a few seconds of scan reading. I don’t think of myself as an ogre, or a bastion of taste. My spelling is little better than anyone else’s, I’m just aware of my spelling.

I cannot tell you how much better people’s articles read and look once I’ve gone over them with my editor’s eyes. The author gets all the credit too – as I say, people don’t know what I do and think of my as just an intranet publisher. Sigh.

I’m being edited

So why am I worried about my latest article that I’ve written for a psychological journal? The editor requested my work, so I’m honoured to be a guest reader, and I’ll be published for the benefit of thousands of edumacated people. It’s going to be great.

But in order to get published, my 3,000 word article has to pass through the editor, and pass her suitably high standards. I’m quaking; was it well written? Did I use ‘whom’ and ‘one’ correctly? Did I mix my tenses up too much? Was the content what she expected? What if I rambled on and on and lost the plot? What if, she thinks I’m a cruddy writer with a niaive message?

I’m already feeling defensive. I shall explain how the article completely matches the brief! I shall remind her that I was invited to submit the article, and that I’m the ‘expert’ here… (dangerous ground Wedge, dangerous ground).

Somebody stop me from saying to her ‘oh I am an editor as well you know’ with a smiley face indicating pomposity (I could do it, I have the composition of colons, arêtes and an interrobang all ready).

I may blog about the process some more; but for now, let me leave you with the thought that an editor knows the audience better than you and should be working in partnership with you to craft, refine and polish an article that you’ll be proud to have your name under.

The editor is not your enemy; they’re your gateway to the audience.

At least, I hope they are.

  1. The editor is vital. We should all be our own editors (ideally) but an extra set of eyes (and some hired expertise on the particular audience) are invaluable. Being your own editor without someone else doubling up is (for all but a few people) only for when you have no other option.

    They don’t detract from your work (if they’re good) but rather they help sculpt it into the best shape it can be for the audience. They are literary stylists; they make you look good.

  2. As the majority of my writing is for FirstSigns, you Wedge are my editor, but I never see you as the enemy!

    As you know, I’m someone who takes everything personally and you’d think that would make me difficult to edit, but I hope I’m not because when it comes to my writing, constructive criticism is always appreciated. Partly it’s because I appreciate you’re a better writer than me with more experience, and I have great respect for you as a professional editor, but it’s also because writing is so very personal that I feel it’s always important to be open to the perspective of others.

    I can read my own work back numerous times and not notice something that you will see straight away. Editing isn’t just about making something better, it’s about reviewing a piece as the ‘reader’ and not as the ‘writer’ – often difficult for the writer to do for themselves in my opinion.

  3. Some people, like Jules, would make excellent editors as an eye for detail is crucial. My eye is variable; sometimes I see the detail (like tense, active voice et cetera) and other times I see the big picture (context, audience reaction).

    It’s important to have a good message first and foremost – good writing can only enhance the message, not replace it – see:

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