“Editing is such a subjective talent.”

"Writing", 22 November 2008
“Writing”, 22 November 2008 (Photo credit: ed_needs_a_bicycle)

I recently received a comment from someone on one of my entries where they stated that “editing is such a subjective talent”. It’s accurate, to a degree, but it can also be said that writing is a subjective talent as well. As with any art, everybody has their own tastes and preferences; some people prefer rock ‘n roll, while others like classical best. Part of the process of finding a publisher for your work is to find someone that shares the same “vision” you do. Some writers that have queried us simply clash with the style of the editors we have on staff – that’s just part of being part of an artistic world.

He went on to state how much it stings when someone edits your work. I can tell you from experience that it can, at times, be difficult. When I was taking writing courses in college, it was difficult to have my writing torn apart and critiqued not only by my teacher but by the entire class – all of whom had different tastes than I did. It’s natural to want to defend your writing because your stories are your babies. We all feel that way. Over time, I’ve grown far less protective of my writing in that sense because – being on the other side of the red pen – I know it’s not personal. In fact, the person with the proverbial red pen is doing their best to make sure that my work is the best it can possibly be.

Speaking as a writer (yes, I know the stereotype is that editors just wish they could write – surprise, surprise), I have had experiences with editors throughout my writing career that wanted to remove or change things that I felt were important to the story. In college, for example, my professor couldn’t stand what she termed “genre fiction” and, quite frankly, “genre fiction” is what I write. That resulted in her trying to force changes in my writing (she wanted me to write “literary fiction“) that I just plain wouldn’t see happen. I’ve had others try similar things, and this all ties back to the fact that “editing is such a subjective talent”.

You will in your writing careers encounter people whom just plain don’t click with your personal views of your work. You will in your writing careers, encounter people that don’t like your writing (as much as I respect him, I’m not a Stephen King fan at all). Inevitably, these people will tell you that you need to change something that is an important foundation for your work and there will be a clash of personality. Is this necessarily a deal breaker? Well, if the person that doesn’t “appreciate the beauty of your formalism” happens to be the editor for your work then it very well may be one unless you’re willing to put up with it to see your work in print. That’s a choice that only you can make; personally, I’d rather not see my work published than have to castrate it.

Whether or not an editor agrees with your work or your point of view, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t gain something from them or that they are a poor editor. Even if your point of view differs drastically, you can learn from hearing people’s criticism (provided it’s constructive) and considering it. Grammar mistakes, word choice issues, plot inconsistencies, and many other common literary mistakes don’t require a matter of “taste” in order to be fixed.

Regardless of whether or not you have a personality clash, one of the most important parts of being professional is your behavior. You, and you alone, are responsible for how you react to the comments and criticism. Behaving in a professional, polite manner will certainly win you far more “Brownie points” than throwing a tantrum over the fact that you don’t agree. And in some circumstances, if you ask nicely enough it may result in you being reassigned to another editor rather than being dropped from the company entirely. There are many possibilities that you might face if you’re polite. If you’re rude or difficult, however, those doors will close on you and you’ll be left with only the option to start the process of finding a publisher all over again.


3 thoughts on ““Editing is such a subjective talent.”

  1. Funny enough, I usually see the “wish they could write” line leveled more at critics. Usually only when they’ve given a bad review, naturally.

    While I also had the issue of professors wanting me to write literary fiction when I was (and still am) a genre fiction person, I’ve always been of the opinion that if someone is taking the time and effort to critique your work it’s because they care. Especially if they are harsh. If they are harsh, it means that they respect you enough to be honest and to believe that you can take it.

  2. I’ve been asked, as someone who is “good with English” to edit twice this year. In my limited experience, the thing that I realize I’m good at is helping with sequence, structure, and “flow”, aside from the basics of grammar, word choice, and punctuation. I always strive to figure out exactly what the person is hoping to get out of having their work edited. Are they having trouble transitioning from one thing to another? Do they need to know if the dialogue is realistic/believable? What do they really want?

    Of course, I don’t work for a publisher, either. I’m sure there are different objectives depending on the project. Choosing an editor that you respect and that seems to “get” your vision is really important. As a writer, I had a great editor in school. I haven’t had her recently (I graduated, moved to another state, lost touch), and I am still looking for someone I feel that comfortable with (and she could be HARSH, but she pushed my writing to levels I thought were beyond my limited skills) who is that good at pointing out what a piece needs. This is probably your most important relationship as a writer. I couldn’t imagine just paying someone and getting a finished product back.

    Great post!

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