Saturday, May 26, 2007


Awhile ago Alvina and I started to talk about what people want in editors, but never finished the conversation (I was driving – poor Alvina, who is often the one being driven! Some* of us BRGs are pretty bad at that)…but that got me thinking, as BRG conversations tend to do.

What I look for in an editor is someone who understands what I’m trying to say and gives comments that help me say it better. Or say it, period! Alvina is brilliant at this; she doesn’t tell me WHAT to say, but she is encouraging while pointing out – what shall we call them? Areas needing improvement? These are not always things that need to be taken out or rewritten – sometimes they are additions.

But the result is a better book. It’s like having long floppy messy hair and then having someone shape it into a short (well, maybe not necessarily short: depends on the project, sometimes things get longer) cute flattering haircut. By the way I take the art of haircutting VERY seriously and this is not meant to belittle editing.

I edit other people’s work for a living; but I’m not good at editing my own. When I write, I’m very self-absorbed, seeing everything how I imagine it, I don’t really have a lot of control – things just pop out. And I don't know how they will strike other people.

When I edit, I’m reacting to what’s on the page and responding to the author -- as a reader, not as a writer: it’s his or her book, NOT MINE. If I don’t understand something, I don’t leap in with my own imagination – I ask, we talk about it, until the author (sometimes prodded by me) figures out how to solve the problem: and usually it’s not figuring out – it’s just ideas popping into his or her mind. That is really fun to see.

They’re really, really different processes: when I’m the editor, I’m the midwife, when I’m the writer, I’m the mother giving birth; I can’t do both at the same time! I think maybe picture book authors CAN (you write spare to start with because you have the pictures?) but maybe this is just one more instance of the proverbial grass being greener. Thoughts? What do YOU look for in an editor?
* PS Might as well name names: I don't think it will offend Grace if I say that she and I are the bad drivers -- and CONSTANTLY getting lost.


Barbara O'Connor said...

I love my brilliant editor (Frances Foster) because she asks questions that force me to think deeper about my story, character, etc. And she has a great eye/ear for character and is quick to point out when one of them "doesn't ring true" (a favorite expression of hers). She also rarely offers specific solutions...but, rather, respects that the story is mine and the solutions must be mine, as well.

AND, she often reminds me that what might seem like a big and daunting revision on the surface is often accomplished by minor changes. "A little change can make a big change."

AND, on the few occasions when I disagree with her and want to stick by my guns, she "gives in" gracefully and with respect for my creative vision.


P.S. I constantly get lost, too. That's why god gave me a GPS. Yay!

Elaine Magliaro said...


I am definitely directionally challenged like you and Grace. I usually have to take a test drive to a location with my husband before I drive there myself. In March, Grace and I made plans to have dinner with Janet Wong when she was in Boston. We both worried about who would drive to the restaurant because neither of us can parallel park! Fortunately, Janet did the driving.

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