Creative Tensions: Between the Editor and Your Voice

June 29, 2011

This is the third post in a series of posts on writing and the creative life. The other two posts are: “Between Annoyance and Passivity“; “Between Authenticity and Plastic.

Today I want to discuss another tension, the one that exists between your unique voice and the hot red pen of the editor. One of the things that is difficult for new writers to understand is that the editor is not your enemy but your friend. I had a good book editor tell me one time, “Dan, you are not Hemingway.” Tough, but great advice. What she was saying is that yes I had talent, but it needed to be polished, just like any other gift. Consider the basketball player who is uncoachable. Can he achieve maximum performance? Or the raw musician who refuses instruction from the maestro. Can he ever get all he wants out of his talent? The answer is always no.

Every writer has a unique voice and style. Bad editors (which are few and far between. I’ve never met one before), hack away and steal the author’s true intent. Good editors seek to carve the rock and bring out the sculpture underneath. I have found my writing sharpened and improved by simply having the willingness to let others into my work. Often my most creative impulses come through after seeing the honest critiques from someone else.

If you hang on to every word and turn of phrase, you will never maximize your God-given gift. I have come to love editors. I realize it’s a unique gift that I don’t have. In fact, for my current book project, I have three people who are going to review every chapter. I gave them one simple instruction: Be Brutal. In other words, I don’t want them giving me smiley stickers and back pats. I want honest critique that will tighten my writing.

Now, does that mean I apply each and every change someone suggests? No. As the author, I reserve the right to say, “thanks but no thanks” to a change. And I do that. If I feel that the word or phrase or section is vital to the overall theme of the project, I leave it in. But not before trying to find another way to say it that is clearer.

Summary: Come to see honest editing of your work as a way of polishing your talent and you will see your writing improve many-fold.