In praise of the editor I don’t have

Image from Wikihow.
Some writers hate their editors.

I’m not one of them.

I know there are bad editors out there, bullying or shadowy or — worse — gently conniving figures who take perfectly serviceable prose and proceed to hack at it as if gutting a Thanksgiving turkey. I’ve had one of those, a guy who managed to take a pretty tight story and embellish a couple details with his own thoughts, which happened to be factually incorrect. The subject was not pleased.

But he’s the exception. In general, my editors have saved me from myself.

They’ve clarified my language — and clarified my thinking, too. They’ve cut my tics — “indeed,” “incidentally,” “of course,” my fondness for dashes like the ones framing this parenthetical clause — and done so with kindness. (Usually.)

Yet editors seldom get credit. Maybe if you’re Max Perkins or Robert Gottlieb, or Gordon Lish, though some writers think the last got too much credit.

I don’t know why I’m thinking about editors; maybe it’s because I just finished reading the May Esquire, the last to be overseen by David Granger, or maybe it’s because I marvel at the abilities of David Remnick every time I get the latest New Yorker. (The new issue arrived in the mailbox today.) Maybe it’s because some books I’ve read cry out for a firm editor; somebody should have insisted that J.K. Rowling trim the last few Harry Potter tomes or Stephen King cut a chunk out of “11/22/63,” but I’m guessing those writers are so famous that they got — to borrow a phrase from the movies — final cut on their books.

Maybe it’s because I got an email from the Atlanta Press Club today about a program starring one of my old editors, the brilliant Jan Winburn. (She’ll be leading a workshop on May 14. You should go!)

Or maybe because writing these blog entries reminds me of how much first drafts — and, let’s face it, blog entries are practically the definition of “first drafts” — need honing and shaping and perhaps even rejecting (kill your darlings!), and it’s always nice to have someone you trust tell you what works and what needs help.

As they say in the acknowledgements, all mistakes are my own. Unless that one crummy editor is still around. Then it’s his fault.




One thought on “In praise of the editor I don’t have

  1. Looks good to this former editor. I’d be tempted to fix the lone typo I spotted and say, “Run it. ”

    By the way, editors are good to have. Also, I generally found that the best writers understood that the most.


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