Monday, March 02, 2015

Why Editors Must Be Fair, Balanced—and Unafraid

“Fair, balanced, and unafraid.” You might recognize this philosophical promise from one of the major TV new channels. Whether or not their brand of journalism delivers on that promise is debatable to some and obvious to others. When I heard this tag recently, however, my thoughts turned not to TV news but to editors. 

The words fair and balanced seem like no-brainers when it comes to editing. Who would want to work with an editor who is unfairly critical or does not balance rules of style and grammar against the author's voice, style, calling, and passion? But what does the word unafraid have to do with an editor's work?

I'll be brave enough to tell you that as scary and nerve-racking as editing can be for authors—especially new authors who fear “tampering”—at times editors can find themselves feeling if not afraid, hesitant. I know what I'm doing, but this is a new author. What if I'm not sensitive enough to how he feels this first time out? Or, This is an experienced author. What if my edit is not what she is used to and expects? Or, Is this the author who is not going to like how I edit no matter what I do or how I do it?

I have come to believe, however, that an editor should edit not only kindly, sensitively, fairly, and with balance—but unafraidEditing without fear, without undue hesitation, is a mark of professionalism and professional confidence. 

Every writer needs an editor for good reason. Writers—even those who blog and have the gall to push Publish with only their own edits (gulp)—will not produce the best writing and communication without someone else taking a fresh look. And writers and authors, at least eventually, come to realize editors care most about one thing: helping them make their work the best it can be. Making it sing. Making it clear and accessible to the audience they want to reach.

Pursuing the best requires being fearless, even for editors. In other words, editing takes some guts, a willingness to perhaps temporarily offend or depress an author for the sake of propelling the writing to a better place. 

Don’t get me wrong; for the most part authors I have worked with have expressed appreciation for my work as an editor. Whew. But still, as one who would much rather please people, one who has from time to time not felt the most comfortable with an author, I have had to work up to this advice:

Editors everywhere, if you know your craft (evidenced by repeat requests for your work, for instance); if you work to understand and value authors’ "blood, sweat, tears" and creative sensibilities, if you care, it will be okay. Be brave. Do your best. Edit unafraid!  

Do you write? Does the thought of editing scare you? 

Do you edit? Are you ever hesitant in your work?


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