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Editing Awe

We had an author come speak to our writing class today.  She was great – warm and funny with a lot to share about being a writer and being a teacher of writing.  She talked about her family’s history, her journey towards being a full-time writer, and the process by which stories unfold for her.  The most interesting part of the talk for me, though, was reading the 4-page letter her editor sent her in response to the first draft of her first novel.

The letter was exactly what editing feedback should be.  Supportive, well-organized, and with evidence of careful thought and analysis.  Reading the letter, I could see the shape of the first draft, and I could see exactly where the author had incorporated the editor’s suggestions into the final version of the book.

Most interesting, though, was that one of the character issues I ran into when reading the the book was echoed in the editor’s letter (albeit with more grace).  Given how much else in the book seemed to change between the original feedback and the final, I wonder why these issues didn’t get resolved.  I would have loved to ask the author about it, but it felt strange to say “why didn’t you fix this thing that your editor and I both dislike?” especially after such a great visit, so I stuck to commenting on the quality of the letter.

The letter reminded me that no matter how talented the writer (and I do believe that this author is talented), a good editor is vital.  Good editing finds the great and preserves it, then roots out the problematic and suggests solutions.  It’s a powerful role and one we rarely get to see – but I got a glimpse of it tonight.

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