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When to Ignore the Editor

You are God.

Nifty, huh? You speak from on high and characters dance to your every whim. Princesses marry peasants, spaceships travel trillions of miles in an instant—the universe is yours to command.

And then someone tells you to scale back. To fix your perfect design. To rewrite the third act. You kick, you scream, you cross your arms and stand in the corner, but in the end they’re right. There’s something flawed in your world, something to fix.  You couldn’t see it because you were too close.

We need editors.

We need them because we are an imperfect god. A god who misses details, who drops comma instead of periods, semi-colons instead of hyphens, blue-eyes instead of gray. The best writer in the world is still a flawed creator.

But what do you do when the editor is wrong?

Step the First: Make Sure You Know What You’re Talking About.

Not that I don’t trust you but…really? Are they wrong? Really?

Okay, okay. Sheesh. They’re wrong.

But here’s the thing, assuming you have a good editor (you do have a good editor, right?), most of these folks really know their stuff. It’s fine if you want to ignore commas because it’s your style, but make sure that’s the actual reason. (Hint: because Stephen King does it is not a valid reason.)

Eraser's are for suckers. Might I suggest fire?

Eraser’s are for suckers. Might I suggest fire?

An editor has a reason for coloring your prose—they’re trying to make it better. First time I saw an editor take a red pen to one of my babies my knee-jerk reaction was to put my fingers in my ears and start singing. It was ugly.

But let’s say you do know what you’re talking about, and that poor editor is in fact the Wrong Master of Wrongingsville. That brings us to…

Step the Second: Check With Someone Who Knows Their Shit.

Your editor just told you to cut the sub-plot with the lascivious marmots. You love that damn sub-plot. A marmot’s love is not to be ignored. In your heart you’re sure you’ve done the right thing, you know it, you feel it…but how to be sure?

Check with your beta-readers (important corollary : if you’re at the editing phase and you’ve never shown your story to beta-readers, stop, get in the car, drive to the nearest coffee shop, grab a white chocolate mocha–cause mmmm….good–then get some beta-readers).

The editor is only one person, after all. Sure, their job is to make your turd-patty shine like an aftermarket cubic zirconia, but they’re not omniscient. See what your fellow writers/readers think about those lusty marmots.

And if you can’t find a single person to agree with you…well…you’re just not looking hard enough.

Step the Final: Talk to Your Editor and See if They’ll Change Their Mind.

Editors are people. Just like agents and publishers, if you cut them they’ll bleed. If you tempt them with delicious scotch they’ll drink to excess and fall into a pile of their own sick. We’re all human, right?

That's right, Editor. I know your weakness. Now let's talk about that third act.

That’s right, Editor. I know your weakness. Now let’s talk about that third act.

Email your editor and see if they’ll entertain the notion that maybe, just maybe they’re wrong. Talk it out. Get where they’re coming from and mull it over.

(Are you mulling? Yes? K, we’ll move on.)

Nope. Editor is still wrong.

Well, to get back to the original point, this is your story, and in the end you’re the one held responsible for its success or failure. You’ve got to ride with your gut, my friend. Those instincts have been honed over years of whisky binges and rejection tears. Time to use them.

Now it’s your turn to share your stories below. When you have you ignored the editor?

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Image Sources:
Delete ‘Mistake‘” Creative Commons via Terrance Heath
A Gift from Pommyland’” Creative Commons via Mark
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About nicwidhalm (46 Articles)
Nic Widhalm is a writer based out of Northern, Colorado, specializing in urban fantasy, and supernatural horror. He is happily married, has two beautiful, feisty kids, and spends his free time singing and providing vocal percussion for the professional a cappella group, Curious Gage. Visit www.curiousgage.com for more information.

11 Comments on When to Ignore the Editor

  1. Fantastic. Love this: love how you encourage writers to get a second opinion and really analyze WHY IT IS they disagree with the editor. That’s so important. Like you say, a good editor will be right the vast, vast majority of the time.

    • Thanks, Victoria. Never hurts to get a second opinion I always say. Of course, I find the editor is right most of the time, like you said. Still doesn’t stop me from asking questions.

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  2. I don’t think I’ve out right disagreed with my editor yet (not over anything big, anyway), but then I’ve only gone through the editing process twice. However I think you’re right, at the end of the day it IS your story and you do have to go with your gut. Great post, Nic 🙂

  3. Great Post!
    The first time I disagreed with my editor was WAAAAAY back in book one of my Ravenswynd Series…(she thought that the whole book should be told from the main male character’s perspective) And I totally understood WHY she thought this…but she hadn’t read far enough into my story yet. (Book three is where you finally SEE why the female character just happens to be the main hero of the whole dang series) So…many months later, after much arguing and disagreeing…when she FINALLY read book 3…you got it…She agreed with me!
    So…like you said, you gotta go with your gut. It is, after all, YOUR story.

    By the way, Nic, I’m sharing this post!
    Sharon 🙂

    • Hey, Sharon. Thanks so much for the comment and sharing the post. I think you nailed it when you said sometimes the editor won’t understand the choices you’ve made until later in the book. Sometimes that works out, and then again sometimes the editor turns out to be right. Just gotta trust that gut 🙂

    • Hi Nic,

      Apparently when I commented about this post (a year ago) I must have signed up for email notifications for new comments…

      So I got an email today, saying there was a new comment on this post, except I didn’t bother to really read the email, I just clicked on the link and started reading the post.
      As I was reading, I thought…it seemed familiar…but I still kept reading…

      And then I scrolled down and found my comment.
      After re-reading the blog, I still agree with everything you said…except for one thing.

      Instead of a white-chocolate mocha…I’d get a caramel macchaito. Now spell check has that underlined…but I looked it up and that is how Starbucks spells it…so sometimes even the spell checkers are wrong!!

      🙂

  4. I had a short story where a critiquer of mine didn’t like the ending. They didn’t believe it would happen that way. I gave his thoughts some serious consideration, because he’d been right about other things before and I’d improved my story dramatically. But no matter how much I pondered on it I came to the same conclusion. My ending was stronger. I believed wholeheartedly it would end that way. I checked with a few other people who “know their craft” as you say and for what I was going for they agreed.

    That doesn’t mean everything my critiquer has said is now worthless, just that on this occasion the feedback wasn’t right. And that’s okay. That’s why we mull things over. If we’re being honest about our stories, typically we’ll come to the right conclusions. Great post!

    • I really think it all comes back to being honest, as you said. If you feel that strongly about the ending I’m betting readers will feel the same. Gotta mull, right?

      Thanks for commenting.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Is It Okay to Edit Your Own Novel? | Nic Widhalm is Mad
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