From Jane Friedman:
You should be an editor.
Perhaps someone’s said it to you. Perhaps, after volunteering to critique a friend’s book, reading for hours, and writing 2,000 words of feedback (more than you both bargained for), you’ve said to yourself:
I should be an editor.
You love reading, right? And you’re really good with grammar and spelling. Maybe you even have an English degree or an MFA. What else do you need?
Curiosity, education, and ruthlessness.
An editor’s number-one asset is curiosity.
Not just double-checking facts or looking up info for the manuscript they’re working on right now, but a constant, lifelong level of I need to know.
I recently edited an essay that quoted King Lear’s Cordelia. It was a great line—“I cannot heave my heart into my mouth”—but it didn’t mean what the author thought it did. The quote did not support her point. I didn’t have time to reread King Lear and perform textual analysis, as I’d budgeted 30 minutes for this edit. I already knew it, because I’ve seen Lear four times. Fact-checking wasn’t even officially part of this job, but the essay was fundamentally flawed without that existing knowledge.
I’ve always been curious about Shakespeare. And law school. And the oceanic geology of East Asia. And the workflow of commercial kitchens. And dressage. And, and, and. I’ve never met a fact I didn’t want to know. Eventually, most of them come in handy.
. . . .
Editors must be ruthless.
What makes that sentence above true to the narrator’s voice?
Is this the right place in the book to show her desperate to return to the simplicity of childhood, and to tear the reader’s heart that she can’t?
Because no matter how beautiful the writing is, if a sentence doesn’t fit the character or the story, it’s gotta go.
Many early-career authors use their elevated Special Writer Voice, and their editors must challenge them not to make their words “better” or “more polished,” but more truthful to the author’s own voice.
Purely nurturing feedback is unhelpful. Straight criticism is discouraging. An editor must identify what’s wrong, clarify why it must be fixed, and excite the author to do the work. Editors must inflict the pain of “It’s not good enough, yet.” I’ve told more than one author to cut their first 50 pages. That’s painful! What I say about their work must ring so true that they trust me enough to endure that pain, for the sake of a better next draft.
Link to the rest at Jane Friedman