I have a friend who’s a real smart fellow. Can’t see his blind spots, but is fundamentally a good man and a capable writer. Some years back he was thinking of publishing a book about this or that. I talked to him about it a bit. He was eager to work with an editor so that he could fight with the editor. Evidently my friend was not so excited about printing his book, but about engaging in debate with his editor. He was eager to be toe to toe, at drawn blades, battling for every word.
Pardon me. What the hell?
I thought about that recently as I entered into a proofreading project with a first-time author. His work was unpolished but honest and passionate. Early on, he expressed a strong ability to withstand harsh criticism. Bring it on, he basically said. Good attitude. (It’ll stand him in good stead when the Amazon reviews arrive, and people totally miss his point, saying mostly stupid things, and he has to refrain from answering them at all, much less with “You vacuous cretin…”.)
That writer lacked much ego, and had a desire to improve. Respect for that. But having not really worked with a lot of editors, evidently, a part of him assumed that the critique process would be serrated and twisting the blade. At least that’s what I made of his statement.
The author had a surprise coming. Why would I do that? Only very weak literary professionals hurt your feelings for fun, and thus are questionably even professionals. I never had a real editor treat me that way. I had them send my stuff back for rewrites, ask for clarification, bluntly tell me what I needed to fix. I never had a single one set out to hurt my feelings. Pros don’t have a need to stomp on your soul. They’ll just tell you, this must be fixed. That’s it. If asked, they’ll explain why. They know their trade well enough that there isn’t going to be a bunch of debate.
His surprise: literary collaboration wasn’t adversarial. It was fun. Everyone wants the end product to be its best; if not, they don’t belong on the job. Everyone wins when the end result is something great. Trust builds through working together. You can have a good time while writing a good book. You can banter, kid, laugh, jest. That’s not unprofessional. That is simply making work fun. Writers should like to write. Editors should enjoy editing. Proofreaders should adore catching typos. The relationship should be congenial and collegial. A relaxed attitude is simply the literary equivalent of the special shine on weapons that are obviously in regular use by people who get paid to pull their triggers. If you’re really capable, you can do it without sweat beads popping out on your forehead. You can take time to smell the red ink.
If anyone’s pissed off, You’re (plural) Doing It Wrong.