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The Best Editors

I've been thinking a lot lately about the role editors have played in my development as a writer and I think they have a much more important role than many people would admit.

But the editor has to be a good one. They can't have a chip on their shoulder and they need to look at your work as a partnership. Teamwork.

What's a good editor, to my mind?

A good editor is one who is going to force you to ask questions about the reasons behind your thinking. "Why" is how they start most of their sentences. Often, they'll be approaching your work from a direction you hadn't considered at all.

A good editor is one who will take all the knowledge and experience they have in the field, and help you apply it to your piece. An editor isn't just someone that looks for typos. They're looking for cliches they can help remove, they're looking for tired story elements they can axe, they're looking for the sentences where you were on auto-pilot and could come up with something much better. I've worked a lot with an editor who will leave a note as simple as an underlined sentence and the words "do better" written next to it.

It's their job to hold your feet to the fire.

And then, it's their job to tell you how lazy it is to use a phrase like "hold your feet to the fire."

A good editor is going to be able to keep as much of your manuscript in your head as you're supposed to. They should be able to tell you that the geography of your location isn't consistent from one scene in the beginning of the book to another scene late in the climax. They're going to visualize every piece of action and make sure that the knife stays in the left hand for the entire murder and when it switches to the right, there will be a reason for it and it will be seen easily in the text. They're going to notice that you accidentally missed a few instances of find/replace when you decided at the last minute to change Reed's name to Brittany.

A good editor is going to challenge you. They're going to ask you why you're defaulting to a straight, white, male, lead when the story could be just as interesting with someone else in the role. They're going to be the one to point out that a scene at a dinner table is boring. "Why not set it at a race track?" they'll say. "Or why not have the main character changing a flat tire while they talk?"

They will constantly push you into making better stories at the highest level, then zooming in, better chapters, better scenes, better paragraphs, better sentences, better word choices.

I once had an editor send back a manuscript and say, "I'd like to see you cut a few thousand words from this story and I know how to do it: a lot of your sentences are a bit wordy (using 10 words when five will do, that sort of thing). I reworked some of them, but see if you can do more." When I opened the document, I found three examples and it was like lightning had struck my brain.

The story is far better at the shorter length, it's quicker, tighter, leaner.

And if I'd have just tossed that story out into the aether on my own, I'd've never realized. And it's forced me to reevaluate my word choices in my first drafts that have come since that time, too. I applied the knowledge of that mistake going forward so that I expect (hope) to never receive a note like that from an editor again.

But!-- You shouldn't worry about what that editor might say while you're working on that first draft. There's no place for the editor in that process. Their job begins, at the earliest, when you've written "The End" for the first time. Then you'll both crack your knuckles and get to the good work.

Right now, I think I'm working with the very best of editors, and I'm constantly excited to see what they're going to teach me.

If you have any more questions about this, I'm happy to answer them!

As far as work of mine that's been published recently, in addition to my work at Big Shiny Robot!, I had another piece for StarWars.com about the influence of John Ford's The Searchers on Star Wars. I also had an interview with author Paul S. Kemp get published in issue 157 of Star Wars Insider Magazine.

And don't forget to
 check out any of my books, drop reviews of them on Amazon or Goodreads, and follow me on twitter and Facebook!

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