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Editing Principle 41: Great Editing is a Longterm Relationship

bachelorfarmerThis essay in The Atlantic about a torturous revision process is a good reminder of something I’ve long suspected but haven’t committed to in print, and that’s this: The kind of editing that transforms a piece of writing, that can take a text that isn’t working and make it read beautifully, even launch it onto bestseller lists, requires a relationship between editor and edited that is loving, marked by extreme candor (i.e. no b.s. or empty platitudes), and longterm. It helps if editor and edited have known each other for years. And it’s essential that they view each other as equals albeit with different realms of expertise.

Unfortunately you cannot hack this, or scale it, so this truth doesn’t get much play. But I’d have trouble coming up with a counterexample–that is, a situation wherein relative strangers challenged one another to elevate a work sufficiently so that it was not just improved a little, but improved in a way that made all the difference in how the world received it. I really can’t think of any.

PS. Same goes for situations wherein edited views editor merely as someone hired to complete an unpleasant task for them; less doctor, more housecleaner. What they can accomplish together can help a work, but can’t ever transform it.