April 10, 2012

Are emotional reactions enough?

An Editor’s Guide to Working with Authorsby Barbara Sjoholm, is available through the Clinic website or in person and online from several Seattle bookstores. In 2012, we’re happy to announce the eBook edition for the Kindle and the NookHere’s an excerpt from Chapter Eight, “Opinions and Suggestions.”

Editors by nature, at least in our roles as editors, are disposed to want to fix things. And there are often so many things to fix! Most authors, on the other hand, would love to hear that their manuscript is fantastic; it just needs some tweaking and minor adjusting. They must be led onward through the process. Many editors are perfectionists. Few writers are—or, rather, they see the perfection in their own writing and are less clear about the problems. Your greatest advantage as an editor will be your detachment. But few editors are as detached as they might be; most of us cling hard to our own view of the manuscript.

One of the most common things I observe while mentoring editors is the tendency to mistake their emotional reactions and opinions for editorial critique (“I wasn’t convinced that Emma would do such a thing to her mother,” or “I just didn’t feel that Jake worked as a character,” or “I found myself falling asleep during the whole second half of the novel”). You’d be a robot if you didn’t respond to a piece of writing with emotion and opinion; the trick is to use those feelings more as a guide than as something you necessarily need to share with the author. Many editors have, for a variety of reasons, an apparent sixth sense about writing. They often seem to be able to recognize what’s potentially powerful and have the ability to pinpoint a problem. But editors can also be fallible; they’re possibly most fallible when pronouncing from on high rather than clarifying for the author what they mean. 

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