2004articles/editors_are_great.txtNothing is better than a good editor.
I realized this phrase rhymes while washing dishes today, after making some suggestions to my Dad about an article he is writing. I have slowly developed this idea, though, during years of writing and being edited by both good and poor editors.
I wrote newspaper opinion columns for many years, from the ages of 13 to 17. The adolescent years of anyone's life, mine included, are a very sensitive time. Not only is one concerned with their nose and ears and acne, but discussions about "my favorite band" or taste in clothes can become heated debates.
To a young writer such as myself, I was ridiculously loyal to my writing ability. After getting published at a young age, I received compliments from readers young and old. This put me on a high, that I could do no wrong. I thought my writing was absolutely unique, that nothing like it had ever been done before, that my voice on paper was superior. This made revising my work an exercise in pain.
Elementary school teachers were quite happy that I understood basic grammar, so my writing went generally unscathed by them. My parents were my main editors for my youthful writings, always encouraging me to write more, and always willing to help proofread and improve my writings.
I would usually be quite sensitive to any suggestions of reworking a sentence, paragraph, or, God forbid, an entire theme. When my parents would suggest large changes like those, I would accept the red ink on the page, but I would seriously question the thinking behind the red, and was reluctant to make changes. I was always told when reading a test question, your first instinct for the answer is usually correct. The first ideas out of my head should also be the best, right?
I was not comfortable with revising, and only began respecting it in high school. I don't know what shook loose my fear of revision, but I was not afraid of it at the time of my graduation. I constantly revised the speech I was scheduled to deliver at commencement. I had a typical too-high aim for the speech: fresh ideas, a fresh perspective, something to wow the audience. My first draft was long, boring, and packed with sarcasm and complaints. I realized this needed to be changed, and a month-long revision turned it into a speech my classmates still mention as the only speech they remembered from commencement. Mission accomplished.
Editing is vital to good writing. F. Scott Fitzgerald revised The Great Gatsby many times, in painstaking detail, with feedback from many authors, editors and critics. Fitzgerald trusted his own writing instincts and very clearly spelled out necessary improvements. He also listened carefully to others' input, though, and made many fundamental changes inspired by them that, critics proclaim, elevated Gatsby from being merely "good" to "literature masterpiece."
Finding an editor you're comfortable with may be a challenging process; I was blessed with parents who could easily point out errors and vagueness I could improve. Many parents are not as gifted, though, nor may they be as supportive of your writing endeavors. Asking friends to edit your work may sour a relationship, as you may think the editor mean and unreasonable, even if the friend has the best intentions. The friend may also hold back his true feelings, resulting in too little critique.
A trusted, knowledgeable teacher is probably the best editor for your early writing career. As you progress, you'll meet more people whose writing and editing skills you respect, and you'll become comfortable critiquing their writings and receiving their critiques. You may even find contacts in a publishing house; these people will happily remove and berate entire pages and chapters of your writing, though hopefully not to your complete detriment.
Trusting an editor is vital to high-quality writing. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" didn't just leap from Dickens brain onto the page, polished and gleaming with the iridescence of immortality. It was sweat out with the opinion of others, just as your writing should be.
As your editor, do not feel bad when I blanket your writing with comments, imploring you to omit this word, simplify this sentence, eliminate that cliché. I'm doing it to help you look your best, not to use up all my red ink. I want you and your writing to contribute to the upper echelon of communication, not the bottom level of unpolished, vague and wordy rubbish. I was in your place as an author, and I'll be back there again soon. There's real difficulty in clearly and effectively bringing your message to the world.
The editor, once you've found a good one, is your best friend and ally in attaining your writing its proper place in the sun.
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