by Denise C. Baron
(originally published on Ragan.com)
The marriage between a writer and editor can be a glorious one, or it can be a relationship full of strife. As in any marriage, the glue that will hold it together combines mutual respect, appreciation and admiration of each partner's skills and the role each person plays.
Marriages tend to be most successful when the partners are also each other's best friend. They might not always agree, but they manage to work things out compatibly.
A writer's best friend should be his editor. I say should be, because that's not always the case. In a perfect world, a writer writes and an editor improves. Ultimately, the beneficary of their alliance is the reader.
Although you'll find many a talented writer/editor out there, not all writers are cut out to be editors and vice versa. So being a writer doesn't automatically entitle you to consider yourself an editor, nor can all editors write particularly well. What good editors can do well is recognize good writing when they see it and, in wielding their blue pencils, ensure they preserve the writer's voice.
Good editors will take the text the writer has labored over and artfully make it even better – and the writer gets the glory. They correct mistakes, rearrange text where warranted or necessary, amend for house style, confer with the writer, and occasionally suggest overall improvements.
What good editors don't do is equally important. They do not feed their egos by making changes willy-nilly. They do not need to put their stamp on the writer's piece to prove anything. They're already where they are because they've earned the privilege. Truth is, they'd much prefer getting clean copy that is publication-ready; the reality is that's rarely the case. And that's OK, because if all writers submitted perfect prose, these people would be out of a job.
Then there's the incompetent editor. The damage this person can inflict is unlimited in scope and may include whitewashing the writer's text, making it conform to a faceless style, or otherwise stifling what distinguishes one writer from another: the personality, the voice. This person should not be editing anyone's copy but should be praying for the writer's forgiveness – and a lenient penance – and then seeking a new line of work.
Similarly, career writers who fail to understand that theirs is a vocation of lifetime learning may be unsuited for the task. Good writers are on a never-ending quest to improve; what they know for certain is that they don't know it all. And so they strive for perfection. Every day. It's the only way they eventually can become great.
Still the so-called writers and editors lurk. It's no wonder that the writer's lament is that anyone can do his job. That's because everyone writes, right? Who in business today has not composed a memo or an e-mail or even an instant message? Isn't that writing, after all? Doesn't that make everyone a writer?
A writer doesn't merely put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. What a writer does is create. A writer captures ideas and transforms them into verbal pictures for the reader. Pictures that do indeed tell a story. Pictures that captivate the reader. These pictures are powerful tools. They can make you laugh or cry, enrage or delight you. Mainly, though, they will make you think.
Next time you find yourself reading good writing, listen carefully to hear the writer's voice. Some writers sound witty; others sound academic. Some sound like people you can envision yourself hanging out with; others sound too intimidating for that. What you're listening to is the result of the writer and editor working in harmony.
Just like a happy marriage.
Denise C. Baron is a director of global communications with Merck & Co., Inc. This article was reprinted here with permission from Denise C. Baron.