When I launched into the world of editing there was one thing I never wanted to be known for: being a red-pen wielding grammar snob. Okay, and acting like I know everything there is to know about writing.
I'm not sure where this image of a strict, no-nonsense, grammar-and-rule obsessed, nose-in-the-air person came from, but sometimes I think this is how people view editors. Or maybe it was just how I viewed them until I actually started working with editors and then became one myself.
The truth is, editors DO have a super power--but it has nothing to do with having more knowledge than the writers they edit for or having the Chicago Style Manual memorized.
Their super power is actually much more prosaic--and much more useful.
Ready? Their super power is distance from the work.
That's it. Editors can do what they do with your words (and mine) simply because they have distance and detachment in an area where we do not.
This means that even editors need editors when it comes to their writing.
Yep. I don't have the slightest clue rather my main character in my fantasy novel should be the young girl who goes on the quest, or the middle-aged woman who accompanies her. I've read entire chapters devoted to fleshing out who the heroine of your novel should be and I still swing back and forth absurdly, one day certain it should be the little girl, the next adamant that it's really more about her guide and protector.
I'm too close to the work. I need outside eyes to help me shape my story. Yes, I'm an editor. Yes. if you send me your work, I'd be able to clearly walk you through what choosing one heroine over another would do for your novel. I'd be able to point to overall themes that would change based on your choice, help walk you backward to the point where you first envisioned your novel and help you choose a heroine that would be in-sync with your unique vision.
But I can't do that for myself.
I share this little known fact with you for a few reason. First, run far, far away from an editor who pretends to know everything and who makes you feel like you are not as good of a writer as they are. I'm not sure those editors really exist--it might just be a mythical figure picked up from our school days--but if you do stumble across one, run as fast as you can.
The second reason is because I want you to feel confident in your writing. The fact that you struggle to see your story clearly is not evidence of weakness as a writer--it's a universal struggle that all writers face. The fact that you can send your work off to an editor and get twenty pages of feedback on it does not mean that you should have waited to send your manuscript in until it was in "better shape." It simply means that your lovely editor was doing exactly what she was supposed to do--using her super power to help you tell YOUR story, exactly the way you want it to be told.
That's what editors really strive to do. We are background players giving you props, shoulder rubs, encouragement, suggestions, and perspective so you can tell your story the absolute best way you can.
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