In case you hadn’t noticed, Your Editor has been a bit under the weather. Absent Without Leave, as they say. But fortunately I know some wonderful writers. Here’s a post from my friend Michelle Ule.*
Who’s the Editor in Your Life?
Beloved author Madeleine L’Engle wrote not only fiction, but poetry and narrative essays on the writing life. In one of them, she talked about her own writing process and noted she couldn’t manage as a writer without an editor.
I can’t find the quote this morning, but it went along the lines that after she finished her first draft, she sent it to her editor—who took it apart, pointed out what she was missing, and sent her back to the drawing board. She claimed her work would not have been anywhere near as good without an editor. “I need my editor,” she said.
Maxwell Perkins was one of the best editors of all time. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe owed their writing careers to his fine pen and deft eye. Perkins fought to get Hemingway’s work published over the fears of senior editorial staff about the profanity and themes in the first book The Sun Also Rises.
Perkins also held things together as the Fitzgeralds, Scott and Zelda both, fell under the sway of alcoholism and the Roaring Twenties lifestyle. Staid at his desk, working hard, Perkins polished Scott’s prose to a shining glory and argued with the money folks about an advance.
And then Thomas Wolfe—oh my. I don’t know how many years Perkins worked on and with Wolfe. He managed to get Wolfe to cut out 90,000 words from Look Homeward, Angel. You’ve got to have a lot of confidence in your editor to even think about cutting that many words!
Those were the glory days of editors and writers working as a team. The team still exists but time and money mean the delicate work of fine-tuning prose often gets left by the wayside. And yet, that syncretism of creator and pruner works so well—both in real life and in nature—and we the appreciators benefit from the professional hand.
It’s the rare good author who doesn’t know he or she needs help. Even J. K. Rowling recognizes a stronger editorial hand would have helped her massive project. Last I heard, she planned to spend her retirement correcting all the errors in the Harry Potter books. (Of course she’s had plenty of help from sharp-eyed readers catching the inconsistencies for her!)
I worked with an editor last spring who read my novella with a keen eye and asked questions—not just about precise words but also about content. She challenged me on my backstory and several key words. I’m proud to report I had no grammatical errors—but then Microsoft Word helped with that. When we tussled over several minor points, she graciously gave in to me, but I also submitted to her authority—particularly on things I wasn’t positive about in the writing process.
We worked together well, and it was a joy.
We all need someone in our lives who can tell us no, and who can provide us with midcourse correction. That’s what Madeleine L’Engle recognized and what Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Wolfe counted on.
I rely on people like that, too, though not in such vaunted capacities.
Who’s the editor in your life (and not just in the writing sense)?
Michelle Ule is a writer, Bible study teacher, and editorial assistant at Books & Such Literary Agency. Her debut novella, The Dogtrot Christmas in A Log Cabin Christmas, released in September 2011. You can read her thoughts on Finding God’s Fingerprints in Everyday Life at michelleule.wordpress.com or, this week, writing about best sellers at www.Booksandsuch.biz/blog. You can also follow her on Twitter (@MichelleUle).
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”