How I Learned That Editors Need Editors TooBack when I was a book editor for a self-help publisher, I came up with an idea for a book. I presented it to the review committee and to my delight, they approved it. Because we could not find qualified writers, I was told to go ahead and write it myself. Me? Write a book? Me? I was both thrilled and daunted by turns. I had never written anything so long nor over so long a period.
But at least I knew what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. The book would consist of 365 essays of 200 words each. According to the contract, I had to write two a day, 7 days a week. Monday through Friday, I would go to the office, work 8 hours, and then come home to eat, walk the dogs, and write two short essays. When I turned out the lights, I was exhausted. Some days I liked what I’d written, some days I just couldn’t get the words right. I was grateful for the contract: In bold letters it said I was the one for the project and, by implication, that I had no choice but to find the energy and the fortitude to complete it.
After 7 or 8 months of steady 2-hour stints, I finished the first draft. What satisfaction, what relief! What a dreaded next step: a formal edit. Instead of being the editor and delivering an edit, I was now the author and receiving one. Though my editor was a friend with whom I’d work for years, I didn’t trust her. I didn’t trust that she’d understand what I was trying to say or how I was trying to say it. In other words, I had little confidence in my work.
When I got her review, I was afraid to look at it. It felt like opening an overdraft notice from my bank. To my surprise and relief, she did understand my ideas and my approach. While she offered comments and suggestions, all were informed, respectful, and useful. And yet, as I revised page after page, I felt irritated and defensive. I was tired, to be sure, but I took the review personally and my ego was suffering. A few months later, the printed book was in my hand and my ego was soaring. I forgot all about the stress and had a little publication party with family, friends, and colleagues who’d worked on the book.
For many of us, writing is difficult. It means creating something out of nothing and we don’t really know what we know until we’ve tried to put it down on paper. When we're sure what we’ve written is what we wanted to say, we revise to make sure it flows. But being so close to our work, it’s often hard to easy to see just what needs help. But if the act of writing can lead us to say what we want to say, then an editor can help ensure that it gets said and said well. (Editors need editors too.) Despite the extraordinary effort on the writer’s part, writing for publication turns out to be a team effort: All stakeholders want the work to be as good as it can be.
Tim McIndoo is a Senior Dissertation Editor in the Walden Writing Center. He came to Walden University in 2007 with over 30 years of editorial experience, including work as translator and photographer. He lives in Minneapolis with four cats.
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