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An Editor’s Ingredients by Jenny Jensen

November 19, 2019 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen tagged as , ,

A perspective client and I were in the first stages; you know, where you get a feel for one another to be sure of a good fit. It was a great exchange. She was funny and literate and serious and we quickly decided to move forward (I passed muster too!). Before she sent her manuscript she had one last question: What are the five things a writer should bring to the editorial table. Great question!

My response:

  1. An open mind
    It’s understood that a writer’s work, partial or finished, represents an enormous personal investment. A lot is at stake here. As an editor I respect that. It’s my job to fully grasp the story’s intent and help the writer realize their vision. To make use of that the writer must have the clarity of thought to look beyond their own words and consider a different, well considered perspective. If I interpret a scene as night when the writer intended day it isn’t because I am too dim to get the intention. It’s because the scene as written did not convey the intent. And it’s likely that I will not be the only one who reads it as night. The writer must be aware and open enough to consider and appreciate input outside their box.
  2. Flexibility
    Change is likely required. If some aspect – character, setting, plot point etc. – isn’t right then it requires change and change requires flexibility. My job is to point out what doesn’t work and why. I suggest options, which is often the best way to illustrate why something doesn’t work. Sometimes my suggestion resonates with the author and they use it – always with their own spin. That’s grand and they are welcome to the suggestion but more often than not a writer understands the need for change and does so in a direction I never considered, and it works beautifully. That’s when I’m certain I’ve done my job – I’ve highlighted a weak point and the author sees the breach and jumps in with writerly eyes and fixes it.
  3. A thick skin
    Editing isn’t personal. I’m not afraid that my input might hurt feelings. I’m not viewing the manuscript through a friend’s eyes. I’m concerned only with the voice and vision of the work I’m reading. I, as with any good editor, will not hesitate to point out any and all flaws I see. Derisive criticism is a waste of energy and is never constructive. I don’t use it so the author must be able to view the criticism within the context of the story and not as a personal attack. We’re not in this to become BFFs. We’re in it to make the work fantastic. (Though it’s lovely to note that many clients have become warm friends.)
  4. A working disposal system
    Every writer has lovingly crafted passages they feel are superb. The words flow like melted chocolate, the character is brilliant, the setting is ripe with atmosphere. It reflects the best of your talents. But what if it doesn’t fit the rhythm of the story? It has to go. Same with all that carefully researched data. If it isn’t useful, if it doesn’t add to the tale, dump it. A writer has to have a ready and willing disposal system. Of course, it doesn’t impact the story to keep a file where all those brilliant bits can be held for future use.
  5. Gumption
    With writerly eyes wide open, a brain elastic enough to entertain new possibilities, a skin thick enough to repel the personal and a fully charged ability to delete any detritus, all the writer needs is the passion, the discipline…the gumption to implement the editor’s input. Rewrites are always part of the mix – sometimes just a few scenes, sometimes entire portions. Often it’s the small tweaks that need careful handling to improve the story. Unless the writer has the gumption to go that last mile our efforts are wasted. My edits aren’t meant to discourage but to invigorate, to jazz the writer to make the story shine.

And I love doing just that.

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