“[T]o write is human, to edit is divine.”
– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000)*
The relationship between writers and editors is often a fraught one.
Whether you write novels or marketing copy, writing is almost always personal. Oh, you can make a profession out of it, sure. But at the end of the day, writing is a craft—your craft—and when you send your work off to a client or publisher, it’s your craftsmanship that’s being judged.
Bearing that in mind, it can be hard not to take it personally when your writing is edited. It may even start to feel like the editor is the enemy, picking your ideas apart, raising their eyebrows at your creative decisions, raining on the big, beautiful parade that is your prose.
There was a time when I felt hurt by edit notes and requests for redrafts. I felt each comment as an implicit criticism of both me and the quality of my writing. On the flip side, if a piece of mine was accepted without any edits, I took it as a good sign.
When I was a freelance copywriter, there was one client I worked for in particular who never edited anything I wrote, publishing all my pieces exactly as I had sent them in. This didn’t bother me at all—quite the opposite, in fact. I made sure to double check my work myself, and I felt proud (even a little smug), thinking that I didn’t need editing.
For any editors reading who are rolling their eyes right now: don’t worry—I soon learned better.
After a little while of working for this client, I started to notice that actually, they rarely edited any of their authors. To my surprise, pieces were going out to the public with obvious spelling and grammatical errors.
When I noticed this, something clicked for me. The reason I wasn’t being edited was not because I was a great writer, but because the client didn’t really care about the quality of my work. They wanted to churn out content quickly, and they weren’t too fussy about its standard.
Contrast this with another client I’ve worked with a few times. Any work I sent them would invariably come back to me covered in comments, suggestions and tweaks, and I often had to do several rewrites. At first, I found this difficult to deal with: it made me feel like I couldn’t do anything right, and I got frustrated.
But having to draft and redraft my work put me through my paces. I noticed myself thinking more consciously about the style and structure of my writing, and I became better as a result.
These experiences changed my perspective on editing entirely. Done well, editing is never, ever, a mark of disrespect to you or your work. It’s the opposite. If someone takes the time to engage with your writing and edit it, or ask you to edit it, it is because they care about making it as good as it can be.
You and your editor might have different opinions about what that means, but that is part of the point. If you never submit to editing, you’ll miss the chance to learn what other people think about your writing before it hits the shelves or the internet.
Now that, in my opinion, is a shame. Because if people notice errors, inconsistencies or stylistic blunders in your writing after you’ve published it, it’s too late to do much about it.
Every writer can benefit from editing. But more than that, every writer can benefit from learning how to be edited. It involves swallowing your pride, taking direction, and admitting that maybe, sometimes, your work is not perfect.
Taking edits with good grace is not easy; then again, neither is writing. But both of them are worth it.
*I came to Stephen King a lot later than I should have. It’s my gain, though: I have so many of his novels still to look forward to. If you haven’t read The Shining and Doctor Sleep, then what are you even doing on this blog? Go read them. Right now.