Writing and Editing: Handling Opinion

Handling your editor’s notes (and for ‘editor’ substitute ‘ideal first reader’ if you are at that stage) can be a tricky business. There’s a part of you that wishes them to think its all so amazing that it doesn’t need a comma changed. They were dazzled, wowed, laughed and cried in all the right places. ‘Let’s move right on to proofs, shall we?’ is what you long for them to say.

They never do. I used to like it when the manuscript came back on paper, accompanied by ‘the letter’. Then I could delay its opening, perhaps fortifying myself with a swift Scotch, or taking it out into the world so I am less inclined to openly weep. Because you do feel like tears sometimes. They’ve missed your cunning reversal. They are obsessed by clarity. They fail to be impressed by your lengthy description of the snail in the garden nor see it as the key to the book it truly is! But now, all is electronic and ‘The Letter’ is an attachment. You are not even awake, yet you cannot help but click it open. And it’s too early for Scotch, even in my house.

How do I handle opinion? By regarding it as just that: opinion. It is not truth. It wasn’t handed down on tablets from an all knowing God. You have presumably given it to someone whose ‘opinions’ you value. So you need to heed what they say. Heeding and slavishly changing are quite different, however. Opinions must be sifted, weighed, mused upon. But always remember this: in the end it’s your book, not theirs.

And a good editor – and I have always had good editors – know this. They are not trying to glorify themselves by getting you to introduce, say, a zombie at the court of Bluff King Hal. They are trying to get you to realize and then express clearly your vision. This is where a good editor/ideal reader counts: to help you cut through all the wood you can’t see because you are right in the midst of the forest, and help you to see the living tree. Which is, in all likelihood, the original spark or vision that may have became obscured in all your subsequent expansions.

With a non professional. i.e. Spouse, mother, best friend, it can get a little trickier. A professional editor isn’t going to crawl into bed with you that night hoping for love (I tried that once and it’s not a good idea). They are willing to offend you for the greater cause: the best book you can write. Your closest may only want the best for you but that could make them over critical (“Well, you asked!”) or under so (“It’s all wonderful, dear!”). If possible, I would always go to someone who doesn’t have a stake in your personal life, even if it means paying them. But if that’s not possible… well, pour that Scotch, and just be prepared to filter even more. Don’t argue, simply listen. Take notes – and remember what you have to, with anyone who reads your work: it’s only an opinion.

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