You know what the worst thing about being a writer is? That you have to be your own editor in most instances. Unless you’re someone who frequently uses a beta reader, or you know, you’re a writer within a publishing house who does, in fact, have an editor.
As a journalist, the beautiful thing about the profession is that the journalist has an editor (in many newsrooms, more than one). Quite simply, editors have been foundational to my success within the profession. I couldn’t imagine being a journalist without the editors I’ve had.
They make your writing better. That’s it. With their direction, my writing has become more concise (if you’ve noticed with this blog, I have a tendency to prattle away), more focused, and in some cases, editors have talked me off the ledge when it comes to certain things. That is to say, they helped me to kill my darlings that weren’t actually worthwhile darlings to hold on to.
Seriously, every journalism job I’ve had from the first school newspaper in high school, to the college newspaper at the regional campus, to the college newspaper at the university campus, to the editor at my Colorado internship newspaper, and to the editors at my internship with The Cincinnati Enquirer, they’ve all been instrumental to my development as a writer and journalist.
Even now, as a journalist at The Clermont Sun, where I technically have the title of “editor,” my reporter and sports editor (when I ask for his advice since he doesn’t read all of my articles before publication like the reporter does) have been invaluable in my time as editor. They make my writing better and help me make informed decisions.
Writing is often thought of as a job requiring a lot of solitude, and as such, is a deeply singular activity. I suppose the initial part is, but after that, it really is a team effort. At least, again, if you do have a beta readers or editors to turn to.
When you don’t, it can be hard to get that fair look at your writing, to kill your darlings, and sharpen your writing. To see what’s working and what’s not. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible. I’ve obviously written and published many pieces of writing (nonfiction, but some fiction, too) that only ever had my eyeballs.
A quote from John Homans, an editor at New York magazine for nearly 20 years and who died recently at age 62, spurred my thinking about this. Let me warn you beforehand that it’s profane.
“Take some fucking words out,” he shouted at a writer. “It’s like a fucking Victorian living room in there.”
I feel that quote in my bones. In almost any instance of writing, I’ve noticed how easy is to cut superfluous words because they are plentiful. It’s not just killing the darlings, but also all the filler between the supposed darlings. In my case, I tend to use words that sound right in my head, in a conversational way, but not on the page, such as “like,” and “just.”
But that’s great advice from Homans. Take some words out.
Editors will always get crap in the industry (journalism or in other fields) when something goes wrong with the writing. Usually, the issue I’ve noticed is editors who put a bad headline on the writer’s article, which I’m terrified of doing, and frequently will consult with the writer on the headline beforehand. The last thing I would want to do is be the reason my writer’s article gets panned.
But when a piece of writing sings? When it truly sings? Editors are the unsung heroes, and one of the reasons for it.
Thank you, editors.