Philip Hoy, author of The Revenge Artist
Every Writer Needs an Editor…or Two
If you are a writer, you need an editor, someone who knows you well and whose judgment you trust. Someone who doesn't hold back, who'll give it to you straight, but is still careful not to leave too many bruises on your man-child ego when smacking you around with those backhands of truth. That's a tall order, I know, and so luckily, I have two of those editors. Two of the smartest women I know, my wife and my daughter.
My wife is a voracious reader. She devours books in all formats, electronic, print, and sometimes even audio. Few images are sexier than this woman curled up on the couch in her pajamas with a worn paperback folded over in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other; or more beautiful than her dark hair in messy curls about her head and her delicate features aglow in the soft light of an e-reader. She knows a good story, and even better, she knows me. As an editor, she reads with a wife’s eyes; that is, instead of protecting my feelings, she’s more worried about protecting me.
“Are you sure you want to write that?” she’ll ask, almost casually at first because she knows how stubborn I can be. But as soon as I start to get defensive, she skips the niceties and just gets down to it. “I don’t care what you say, a number-two pencil stabbed through the palm of your hand would never cause so much blood!”
So I researched it, referenced illustrations in Grey’s Anatomy, culled the medical blogs, read through emergency room reports, even learned more than I wanted to know about real-life crucifixion reenactments in the Philippines with actual nails driven through the participants hands and feet. And it turns out she was right. Sure, a pencil through the palm of your hand is going to bleed…just not as profusely as I wanted to imagine, so I quietly revised the scene.
Other times, there’s just no arguing at all.
“I don’t care how smart she is. A sixteen-year-old girl would never say that.”
“Are you sure?”
While I can always depend on my wife for the naked truth concerning what I have written, I suspect she might not be the best person to ask for advice on what I have not. For example, sometimes when getting dressed for work in the morning I need help deciding which tie to wear. For some reason, when I include her in the process, she ends up perturbed at me.
“If you knew which one you wanted, why did you even ask me?”
“I asked you because I wanted to know what you thought.”
“But you chose the other one!”
“I know. You helped me decide.”
No, for that kind of editor I turn to my daughter. While she mostly inherited her mother’s beauty and intelligence, she also got some of my wandering imagination and inclination toward abstract thought. Now this is the girl you want to take clothes shopping with you. “Which one? Oh Daddy, just get them both. You deserve it.” So when I simply need to bounce story ideas off of someone, she has a way of finding possibility in all of them.
“So what did Erin have to say?” my wife might ask.
“You were on the phone forever, what were you talking about?”
“Uh…art and writing and my story and stuff. Mostly I was talking.”
This, my wife understands and appreciates. She’s a fixer; so if you don’t want her to fix it, don’t show her. That’s not a problem for my daughter the graphic designer. She works in possibilities. And she’ll gladly help me shop ideas. For her, the more the better because she doesn’t worry so much about protecting me from myself, she knows I have her mother for that.