I’ve been writing for publication since my teen years, when the world was young and the Garden of Eden’s discount fruit stand was still in business. As you might imagine, I’ve worked with more than a few editors over the years (and even been an editor myself). Though some writers see editors as “the enemy” (or perhaps the stumbling blocks in their paths), I’ve always had great relationships with my editors and have even learned a thing or two from them. Here are three things I learned from editors:
“You can never finish a piece of writing.”
One of my early editors was fond of saying—well, a lot of things, and some even made sense, but just one I’ll mention here—“You can never finish a piece of writing; you must abandon it.” That nugget of wisdom may not have been his creation, but it stuck with me. It’s saved me from my Type A/OCD tendency to overthink and endlessly revise something I’ve written. Whether I’m writing a devotion, a feature article, a blog post, or a book, there comes a point after numerous critiques, edits, and revisions, when I abandon my “little darlings” to the editor and the reading public. I often see, after publication, something I could’ve done better, but I’ve learned not to make perfection my goal; excellent, effective, and timely communication is.
“Give good copy on time.”
Early in my experience as an author—after my first book’s release and after the next two were in the editorial process—I had the opportunity to have lunch with my big, important book editor (at a big, important publishing house). I asked him to critique my writing and give me advice. He thought for a few moments, then said, “If I thought long enough, I’m sure I could come up with some constructive criticism; but the bottom line is, you give me good copy on time.” Flummoxed, I said, “Seriously? Is that it? ‘Good copy on time?’” He nodded. “You’d be surprised,” meaning that a writer who meets deadlines was rarer than one might think. Since that day, I’ve never missed a deadline. I’ve renegotiated a few, but always make sure to meet—or beat—the deadlines I’m given.
Now that I’ve written and published millions of words, you’d think that I know a thing or two, right? Apparently not, because not long ago I turned in a manuscript to a trusted editor who turned it quickly back to me, saying, “Dude, use contractions.” I had no idea what this editor was talking about; I use contractions. But then I scanned my copy and realized that in this project, at least, I had sometimes taken a more formal, didactic approach than is my wont (I may also have said things like “than is my wont”). So, I combed through the manuscript and changed numerous (not all, but a lot) instances of “do not” and “will not” and so on to “don’t,” “won’t,” etc. As you might expect, the changes made the whole thing more conversational, which was highly desirable for that particular project. And here I thought I knew how to write.
These are only a few examples of things I’ve learned from editors. Oh, one more: A good editor is your friend. Maybe even one of your best friends. He or she can teach you a lot, if you’re willing to learn. So, what are some things you’ve learned from an editor?