Why I Really Do What I Do (and Why It Matters to You)
Let’s try a little experiment. What comes to mind when I say, “It’s time to edit your story”?
For many writers, the notion of editing conjures an unwelcome memory of brutal critique or derision—a time you offered your story to a peer or mentor only to be shot down.
Maybe for you, it was a stern English teacher in grade school who filled your papers with inky red hieroglyphics. Or perhaps that college critique group who ripped your idea to shreds and laughed about it—right in front of you. Maybe you’re visualizing the relative who scorned your dream of becoming a writer and told you to find “real” aspirations instead.
Or perhaps—if you’re lucky—you don’t have any specific negative memories of critique; there’s just a general tightening in your midsection at the thought of sending your story child off to a total stranger who probably collects red pens and blogs about comma abuse.
Whatever the source of your apprehension, I get it. Writing stories—even fictional ones—is a deeply personal endeavor, and there’s something terrifying about revealing your creation to another human being, especially when that human’s job (and possibly joy in life) seems to be identifying all of your flaws and weaknesses.
But from editor to author, can I let you in on a little secret?
My job as an editor isn’t really about finding what you’re doing wrong. It’s about championing what you’re doing right.
In other words, I don’t edit because I take pride or pleasure in tearing apart a bad story. I edit because I find joy and satisfaction in helping forge a beautiful one.
Yes, I love grammar, and yes, I find the nuances of language fascinating. (I might even own a red pen or two.) But what I love most about editing is the magic of storytelling itself—the way words come together to form a portal beyond the familiar, a doorway into things we’ve never experienced that opens our eyes to the truth about all the things we’ve always known.
This may come as a surprise, but my driving force as an editor isn’t criticism. It’s collaboration. My deepest desire is to help you find the heart of your story and polish it until it gleams. I yearn to help you serve the work (as Madeleine L’Engle suggests in Walking on Water) so you can better serve your reader. The polishing process will look different for every author, every manuscript, and every type of edit, but no matter the format, the goal of my craft remains the same: to bring out the best in you and your writing so you can offer your best to your readers.
Now, I’d be lying if I said critique wasn’t part of the process. But seasoned authors know that finding what isn’t working is usually the best path to discovering what will work. The critique isn’t the endgame—it’s the road that leads to something incredible beyond what you’re able to see right now.
Aspiring novelist Jo (from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women) expresses what almost every author has felt during the drafting process when she says of her WIP: “I’ve been fussing over the thing so long, I really don’t know whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent.”
Familiarity can breed blindness—in our writing, our relationships, and even how we view ourselves. That’s why we seek counsel from others when we have to make an important decision—we need advisors to help fill in our blind spots. And the advisors we trust most are the ones who aren’t afraid to be honest with us.
Imagine for a moment that a friend has asked you to help pick out her wedding gown. Would you tell her she looks equally stunning in every dress? You might. After all, you see her true beauty no matter what dress she wears, and by praising every gown, you keep from hurting her feelings.
But as her friend, you’re also eager for everyone else to see the same beauty you see. Your desire to champion her is precisely what will encourage you to speak up when a dress isn’t working—not because you’re eager to point out your friend’s flaws, but because you’re eager to see her shine.
Editing is a lot like that. When an editor says a sentence or a character or even an entire story arc isn’t working, it isn’t a personal insult or a sign that you should quit writing. Instead, it’s an invitation to keep searching for the right sentence, the right character, the right story arc. It’s an editor’s way of saying, “I believe in you and want what’s best for you. Let’s keep going until we find it.”
Even with the best of intentions, of course, no one likes hearing there’s more work to do, especially when you’re already on your third, fifth, or fifteenth draft. I understand. I’m an editor, but I’m an author too. I know how much hard work happens behind the scenes before your draft ever makes it to my desk, and I know how disheartening it can be to receive a stack of suggested revisions when you thought you were close to the finish line.
But I’m not standing at the finish line with a clipboard and a stopwatch, yelling, “You’ll never make it!”
I’ve got my running shoes on and I’m right here beside you, holding out a water bottle and a towel and cheering, “We’ll make it together!”
As Ben Palpant writes in Letters from the Mountain, “Quality work is typically the happy synthesis of your instincts colliding with other people’s instincts, your training colliding with other people’s training until the work shines.”
Our work shines brightest when it’s forged in collaboration and community.
In other words, when it’s time to edit your story—
We’ll make it, together.
Katie S. Williams is an author, artist, and story and heart coach who delights in helping women authors of YA and adult fantasy craft adventurous stories of authentic faith, both in life and on the page. She is a proofreader for Enclave Publishing and a freelance editor with Storyborn Creative Services.
When she isn’t writing, editing, or whittling down her ever-expanding TBR, you might find her crafting bookish latte art or chasing wonder in the natural world with her camera. You can connect with Katie on Instagram at @katie.s.williams or find out more about her editing services at www.storyborncreative.com.