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    « It’s Not About What Happened | Main | Ideas for Organizing Your Memoir or Family History »
    Friday
    May142010

    The Editor's Role

    If you have never worked with an editor, you may not really understand why you need one. I learned the value of good editing years ago when I began writing for the San Mateo Times, a suburban paper in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was told, “Everybody gets edited.” Fair enough, I thought, but what should I expect? Three great former staffers of The New Yorker magazine provide answers.

    Writer Lillian Ross, in her book Reporting said, ‘What most writers need is not another writer but an editor – someone to talk to about their work, someone capable of giving guidance and help without getting in the writer’s way.”

    The writer may not see that changes in his manuscript are needed. He has grown comfortable with it as he wrote and he knows what he intended it to say. That familiarity and comfort are exactly why an editor’s fresh eyes are needed. Gardner Botsford, a long-time New Yorker editor explains, “In editing, the first reading of a manuscript is the all-important one. On the second reading, the swampy passages that you noticed in the first reading will seem firmer and less draggy, and on the fourth or fifth reading, they will seem exactly right…But the reader, who will read the thing only once, will find it just as swampy and boring as you did the first time around. In short, if something strikes you as wrong on first reading, it is wrong, and a fix is needed, not a second reading.”

    Harold Ross (no relation to Lillian), another long-time editor at The New Yorker, describes the relationship of editor to writer. “Editing should be … a counseling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should ask himself, ‘How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style.”

    So in seeking help from an editor you should expect an adviser who can help you to improve the interest and clarity of your manuscript to provide a better experience for your reader. As I learned at the Times, everyone needs an editor.

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