When we need an editor

Do you have an editor?

Zadie Smith famously advised novelists, once finished with their work, to put their book into a drawer and not touch it for one year.

One year!

I’m not sure whether Zadie ever had the discipline to wait so long but her point is clear:

You have to put time between you and your writing. As she says: “You need to become its reader instead of its writer.“

You are probably not a novelist.

Nor am I.

We don’t need a year but, whatever we write, we need to mutate from writer to reader too.

But if I don’t have that time?

Then you need an editor.

Some people see the editor as the bad guy with scissors. But that’s not what he is. He is our helper. He makes things shorter, crisper and clearer. Doing so, he helps us to get through to the reader, cutting weeds and seeing the forest where we saw trees.

The edited text is always shorter.

This is very different from approval. When you seek approval, say from colleagues in other departments, you can end up with a text that is more complex and longer. Now the need for an editor is even stronger. See him as the middleman. His job is to deliver the message. He has the audience in mind. Before he delivers, he tweaks the message so that the reader can read, like and embrace it. The editor clarifies and simplifies.

This may call for another round of approval but you can’t really avoid that. If you want the message to get through, it’s better to end with the clearest possible document.

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2 thoughts on “When we need an editor

  1. I have been an editor for software developers. I gave them a view on how does their piece of software fit into all the rest of OS, Network, Release Rules. We checked their manuals. We looked at their timing to finish on spot for the release date.
    It was fun, specially when it helped to reduce the pressure and the developer could maintain his creativity so i could be part of it.

  2. I find that interesting Jan as it underlines the role of the editor as a facilitator, someone who helps others achieve their objectives and to express their creativity.

    What you say about giving developers a view on how their contribution fits in to the bigger picture is also similar to the role of a magazine editor who sees to it that all writers can contribute to the style and purpose of the mag.

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