Editing mimics the making of a blade. It is a test of endurance forged in fire. It reflects a heated steel cooling in flames. And it produces a refined weapon ready to face resistance. But unlike the art of blacksmithing, we’re not made of steel. So it’s impossible, I dare say, for the makings of a book to be without emotion. For more often than not, a book is an extension of its author. And an author is made of flesh and bone.
I believe that all authors go through a similar emotional evolution when it comes to professional editing. Though not everyone has the same response, most of us experience a facet of a particular emotion. So if you’ve undergone any of these stages, know you’re not alone. And if you’ve yet to experience them, know they’re not something you should be ashamed about. After all, we’re only human.
Stage 1: Taking Offense
Did you even read my book? How dare you call him irrational? And what do you mean ‘it sounds weird’? No, you’re wrong. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Similar thoughts have ran through my head upon reading my editor’s comments. I won’t deny it. I take offense almost immediately. Come on, after all my hard work, how can I humbly accept an outsider brutally criticising my art? Yes, yes, I know it’s for my own good. But don’t expect me to read those blunt statements unfazed. I am angry! Calm down? You must be kidding me. Fortunately, despite the desire to explode in pride – with a letter of detest toward my editor – I know to take my words elsewhere. I go to someone I trust – someone who understands me – and vent.
I have an author BFF (or better put, best author friend forever). Her name is Erin. She wrote the super awesome, would-be-so-cool-as-a-movie novel, The Pirates of Montana. We come from the same author community and clicked almost instantly. And as much as she’s my confidant, I am hers. We share our frustrations, voice our concerns, and celebrate our accomplishments together. We support and encourage – pushing each other to be better authors.
Now, I believe it makes a lot of difference when you have someone like Erin. People who understand your predicament can help you rationalise before you act. In a stage where you’re offended by the truth, they can realign your focus and bring to light what matters most. Thankfully for all parties, stage one isn’t long standing. And having a friend as such will help you get through it objectively.
Stage 2: Explaining Our Flaws
I explained that issue in chapter seven. It’s a metaphor about life and death. And I was trying to be creative with my words. Maybe… I should’ve been clearer with my descriptions.”
I usually sleep on the blatant truth for a couple of days. It helps me get over my initial offense, allowing me to tackle the issues with minimal emotions. Then again, who am I kidding? The fact that I’m explaining my flaws instead of fixing them is an act of emotion. However, it is during this stage that I understand and grasp the problems in my book.
As I explain a character’s actions, I understand the character better. As I unravel my metaphors, I develop a better grasp of its notion. As I cover the holes of my story, I discover new ideas to improve it. And as I question my own use of words, I find even more creative ways to express myself.
By explaining my flaws, I acknowledge those flaws. And acknowledging my shortcomings, whether in my art or in my own being, drives me toward improvement. So if you have to explain yourself, do it! You might be right about some things, but you’ll also find that you’re not perfect. And when you acknowledge imperfection, you allow yourself to imagine again.
Stage 3: Recognising An Editor’s Gift
You don’t have to – and possibly won’t – take everything an editor throws at you. If you strongly feel that an editor’s change pulls your work away from your initial direction, goal, and expression, you can make a stand. You’re the author. It’s your book. But oddly enough, while we wrestle with our editors, we’ll come to realise that being an editor isn’t easy. And that having the skill to improve someone else’s work is a gift.
I’m not an editor. I have done some editing work, but not where I work with authors. I can only imagine what it’s like for editors who face authors in the first two stages above. I’m sure they’ve encountered authors who respond immediately with hate. I believe they’ve met authors who think their books are without a single flaw. Yet I’m amazed at how editors remain patient.
Of course, not all editors are on the same playing field – some less professional than others. But I know it’s their job to help. So if you have an editor who has assisted you in bettering your work, do say ‘thank you’ – a simple show of gratitude goes a long way.
Without a doubt, editing is an emotional roller-coaster. And it is through this emotional ride that an author becomes a better author, not just in skill but in personality. Editing teaches us to be humble, to acknowledge imperfections, and to embrace change. It helps us be more creative, to challenge our abilities, and to try new things. The goal of editing may be to mature a book, but it also matures us – the soul between the pages.