Episode 38: What to Expect from a Writer


Last week I railed a bit on what writers should expect from an editor. Fair enough, and a good topic that every writer should consider when entrusting something personal to someone they probably don’t know very well.

Now, let’s turn the tables. I am on both sides of the continental divide, and I know how taxing the writing process is. But as an editor, I have high expectations about the writers with which I work (and yes, it is fine to end a sentence with a preposition—old habits die hard).

More than simply cold words on a screen, I want to build a bit of a relationship so that I can better do my job of helping the writer succeed. To do that there are a few ground rules that I like to establish up front.

What I Don’t Expect:

  • Perfection: If I ask for changes—even major changes—I am definitely not attacking your talent as a writer. I don’t expect everything that’s sent to me to be ready for publication. Otherwise, you wouldn’t need my services.
  • Grammatical Genius: I’d love to see no grammatical issues, but if that’s why you need an editor, I’m fine with catching those. Send me your dangling modifiers, your fragments, your comma splices.

What I Do Expect:

  • Flexibility: Part of my job is knowing what works, what flows, what’s suitable, and what needs to be cut out. And I love doing just that. But I need to know that a writer is willing to let me do that job. Very few first (and even third) drafts are above major changes.
  • Communication: A past client was very reluctant to open up about what I had suggested, which made the process frustrating for both of us. The communication went mainly one way, and I have no idea what became of the texts. When I edit a work, I spend considerable time explaining suggestions and my impressions. If I’m getting paid to edit, that’s expected of me. However, I don’t want to dictate changes—mainly because the work isn’t mine. I want to know that the writer understands my suggestions, even if he or she completely disagrees.
  • Passion: This is the most important to me. If writers aren’t passionate about what they’re doing, then the editing won’t help. There’s no other way to put it. I’m not saying that the writer has to work 24/7, but I am saying that, given a choice, I will not work with someone who is not willing to dive in completely. If you’re sending money my way, first make sure that you’re willing to keep plugging away. It’s draining—but I’m in if you are.

The main point is, like with a writer and agent, an editor and writer should share a type of relationship with a certain level of trust. You trust the editor with your work, and the editor trusts you to take everything in good faith.

Writers: what is it that you want from an editor? Editors: what is it that you want from your clients?

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