“I love you”?
“You’re the best”?
No, well yes, but even more — “Edit me fiercely.”
An author said that to an editor friend of mine, and we all sighed with envy.
What I love about that comment is the fearlessness of it. The willingness to get your butt kicked for the good of The Work. And it is The Work — we don’t write for money or fame, we write because something inside won’t let us sleep or eat until we do. It’s bigger than we are. So why do some people get so pissy when you critique their stuff?
I’ve actually had very few authors get pissy. Most are delighted that you’ve made a suggestion that will make The Work better. When I was editing Crazy Greta for Dave Hardy, I loved sending him editing remarks. I would suggest a change or maybe an expansion, expecting to get a sentence or two to fix the issue. Instead, I would get a paragraph, this lyrical addition that did what I asked and went so far past it, so much better than what I suggested or expected, I was knocked on my keister. I guess that’s the difference between someone who writes (me) and a writer.
Another author I’m working with just needs the slightest nudge and she takes off in a direction I never expected. It’s like, “Oh, you want a cookie?” and then she sends you this crazy awesome dessert with a cookie somewhere inside. She’s so excited, which makes editing her so fun. She doesn’t take it as criticism; she takes it as a chance to knock my socks off. Maybe that’s why she does knock my socks off.
Now that I think about it, I could actually say that paragraph about so many of the authors I’ve worked with. I expected a bunch of prima donnas who thought every word out of their mouths was the perfect word of God, but most are just jumping up and down saying, “Make me better! Yes!”
And that’s what makes the editor-author relationship amazing. It’s a collaboration, a joint effort to bring this baby to life, and when the author is fearless and ego-less, willing to listen and able to use the editor’s ideas as just a springboard, great things happen. It’s exciting to be a part of it.
If you hire an editor (or work with a critique group), you have to be willing to take criticism. You can’t take every comment as an insult to these wonderful characters you’ve fallen in love with, or a slam to your writing ability.
Think of us as the hair stylist who gives you a great haircut. It just doesn’t look right until you go home and brush it and style it yourself, right? Yet, you don’t take the haircut as an insult to your hair, do you?
Work with us, folks. Ask us to edit you fiercely. And then revise it just as fiercely. Knock us on our kiesters. It’s not about you and me, right? It’s about The Work. And that deserves your ferocity.