How does one go about editing a page? Is there a rule book somewhere? A definitive guide? As an editor I love, love, love to pull stories apart to marvel at the strong points and fix the weak ones. But as a writer, I don't want some stranger to mess up my story. It's my story after all, not hers. When I am across the table from the writer, the manuscript between us, the air definitely changes when I pull out my red pen and begin to dissect the strings claiming to thread the story together. The writer sucks the air right out of the room and stops breathing for a few brief moments, waiting to hear if the manuscript passed or failed. Waiting to hear if he passed or failed.
I try to remind him that it's all about the page. The words on the page have to do their job, they have to speak for themselves. They have to make sense. But the writer doesn't really hear me. He just wants his grade, pass or fail. This makes me crazy. It isn't about passing or failing. It is about improving. Editing is about finding what's working and what isn't. It's grabbing hold of the nucleus idea, the one that snuck up on you at 2:00 a.m. and caused a cold sweat, and cultivating it into a full blown book.
Understandably, writers are devastated when their manuscript is so marked up it appears to be bleeding. Maybe it is. Maybe it needs to. Seasoned writers know that a good editor is what makes their book or article successful. However, It still hurts the seasoned writer to hear there is six more months of work when she thought she was done. It is not an easy process. But, it is necessary.
I don't like to be the bearer of bad news. I feel terrible when I have to tell a writer they are not as far along as they thought. But, it is exciting to see how far they have come. They've written a story! And a really good one at that. The hardest part for me is seeing a manuscript on my desk and knowing that if I tell too much of the truth, the writer will quit. Now it is my turn to be devastated. I experience great anxiety knowing that a writer feels bruised and wounded after I evaluate their work.
There has to be a give and take from both parties. I as the editor need to acknowledge there is a real person holding the mansucript in her hands. The writer has to understand that the story needs to stand on its own legs. Editing is not about an editor saying to the writer, "Oh, you are so wonderful because you spent three years writing this book!" Editing is about nurturing the idea; it is pealing back the layers to look for supporting evidence, scraping away the fat and dead skin to see what really shines beneath.
Editing is a love-hate job. I love to work on a story; I hate to hurt people's feelings. But guess what? The publishing world can be cruel. There are rules to follow, elements of fiction or non-fiction to employ, and sweat to be shed if one wants to be published. That's just the way it is. Because in the end, it doesn't matter how long you've worked on your story, or how many relatives think you are the best writer in the family. In the end, it's all about the page.