Editor Schmeditor

Who needs an editor, anyway? That’s what we have spell check for, right? Wrong, young scribe. Editors can do so much more than that! I have a kickass editor, and it’s a large part of why I am able to reach such great heights of sublime, scribal transcendence, while other douchebags are stuck in the slough of mediocrity.

The title “editor” is a lot like the title “director.” A director can do many different things: cast, choose shots, direct filming, direct actors, direct editing, etc. In an indie film setting, the director may do any or all of those things.

And just like an indie film director, some editors do it all: proofread and edit copy, content, and story. But that’s a rare bird. Mostly an editor specializes in one or two things, like proofreading or copyediting. But what do these types of editors actually do?

  • Proofreader: The proofreader is the last line of defense. They catch any spelling or grammar mistakes that were missed on earlier drafts.
  • Copyeditor: This person checks spelling, grammar, syntax, references, and style.
  • Substantive editor: This is a true “editor.” The substantive editor cuts, (re)organizes, and shapes the writer’s material so that it may best express the writer’s intent.

Writers have a mercurial relationship with editors. The infantile level of insecurity most writers harbor deep in their souls prevents them from seeking a good editor, or keeps them from even considering the possibility that they should be edited. After all, who are those bourgeois editor swine to question our genius? “I meant to use an unconventional grammatical construct, it’s called artistic license, biatch.” Or: “I don’t care if there’s no atmosphere on Mars, the imagery of them kissing on the red surface is sooooo powerful.”

Turns out there are some data to support the writer’s longing for absolute creative freedom. There are actually parts of your brain that are the source of creativity, and other parts that produce logical pursuits. No wonder writers are at odds with editors. Lest you think I’m just speaking out of my douchehole, check out this study by Charles Limb MD:

It’s the medial prefrontal cortex, motherfuckers! So you can take your fancy grammar and Greek archetypes and shove them right up your editor arse. And in case you didn’t watch the video like I suggested, what Dr. Charles did was shove jazz musicians inside an fMRI and recorded what part of their brain lit up when they improvised. That part? The aforementioned medial prefrontal cortex. And what part of the brain did the musicians use when they played a memorized piece of music? The lateral prefrontal cortex, the same part that lights up like a Christmas tree in my editor’s cunty, robot brain when she rips me a new asshole.

See, Ms. Editor-person? We writers have been correct all along–we are supposed to act like spoiled infants.

Good editors are so integral to the process of writing that they are often called the “second writer.” You think a good writer is rare? A good editor is even more so. Personally, I think it is more important to have a good editor than it is to be a good writer. Anyone can crap out a bunch of ideas. It’s the execution that makes or breaks a story.

Steven King is a good example of someone who has worked closely with his editor. In a chapter in his book on the writing process, he shows a passage from one of his novels with his editor’s marks intact. The editor suggested a number of subtle changes and improvements to the draft (of course King uses an example with subtle changes). These suggestions were incorporated in the final work. I heard a rumor that later in his career King fired his editor and began editing his own novels. That could explain why those novels sucked.

I’m no Stephen King, because I still recognize the value of a good editor. Then again, if I ever got rich and famous like Stephen King, I’d probably fire my editor too. I know I will. Editors are annoying. But at this point, I can’t afford to do that.

Let me give you my own douchey example. And like Steven King, I’m going to give you an example that doesn’t make me look too bad. Believe me, there have been times when I’ve had to scrap a whole day’s worth of work because my editor called me on my bullshit. Here is the first draft of the very article you are reading: Ben’s 1st Draft.

Notice the spelling errors, grammatical fuckups, and poor organization. I’m trying to be purely creative on the first pass. (That’s what I tell myself.) Now look at what I came up with after two or three passes editing it on my own:

Better. Many of the spelling and grammar issues are dealt with, and it flows a bit better. It’s close to being a finished product, for better or worse. Most writers stop at this stage. Either they don’t have an editor or—much more likely—they don’t have the intestinal fortitude to have someone edit their work. “It will strip the soul from my art,” they reason. Bullshit. There’s not a damn thing you could write that could not be improved by aggressive editing. Now, check out what my editor sends back to me:

Did you read some of the comments? You need to. Brutal, right? It looks harsher on the page than it really is. Often the editing will be done verbally, and those sessions do not come across as harsh at all. Why do I not have a problem with her telling me that portions of my creation are not good enough? If you look closely at the comments and corrections you will see that my editor makes no effort to drastically change or hijack the work. The focus is on making the work the best possible version of itself while maintaining the voice of the Douchebag. Questions are asked as to my intent, and suggestions are made as to how best manifest that intent in the work. An editor is not a writing partner, per se, but she is a peer and collaborator in the creative process. I like to think of the writer/editor relationship as being similar to the relationship between an athlete and a coach.

Here’s a link to her next round of editing: Editor’s 3rd Draft. I incorporated her suggestions, and she gave me yet more. Right about now, this bitch is irritating the hell out of me. But I incorporated her suggestions, she copy edited and proofread the article one last time, I ported it into WordPress, added the links and embedded the video, and voilà! You have the article you are now reading.

If you find a good editor, then you have found the gold at the end of the rainbow, complete with leprechauns and unicorns. A good editor will organize your unfocused ramblings, plug holes in your story, cut out all the dead weight, and give you the one thing that all writers crave, but can never fully achieve on their own: absolute freedom to create.

I’m amazed when I hear that a writer doesn’t like to be edited, or doesn’t have an editor. Ok, I’m about as amazed as when I hear that people don’t like to exercise. Yeah, it’s tough getting over that initial hump of being sore and exhausted, but once you’re there you get addicted to the buzz. Having a good editor is every bit as addicting. I mean, which article would you rather read, this one, or my second draft? (If you answered ‘neither’, you are well on your way to being a douchebag. We should collaborate some time.)

But this is an indie film blog–why am I droning on about editors? Because you motherfuckers don’t seem to know what one is when you write your scripts. A screenplay needs an editor as well. And—go figure–a person who can edit screen plays is yet another special kind of editor. The kind you need to get a hold of.

Editing film is a conceptually similar process to editing writing. There are a lot of raw materials to work with, and the editor’s job is to put all of those pieces together in a way that tells the best version of the story. It’s a hard job, because it is often impossible for the editor to tell what she is looking at, or what it should be. But film editing deserves its own article. Stay tuned for Editor Schmeditor Part 2—“What The Hell Is This Shit?”






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