“An editor makes sure the writer’s work says what the writer intends and says it in the writer’s voice and with his sensibilities. ~ An editor’s job is to make a story, article, or manuscript better. Better in terms of clarity, enjoyment, logic, flow, and meaning.”

Okay, all that makes sense. But if an editor knows about all that, and can do it for others, why then can’t they write (and edit) for themselves? Actually, some of them can, but that’s not what I’m after here. I want to understand how and why a person becomes an editor in the first place.

Simply put, an editor is, first and foremost, an objective point of view, something that most writers need badly. We all have more to say on any given matter than is usually necessary. That right there makes an editor valuable. My question is, if editors know how to say a thing, why then do they not also know what to say?

There is a mini-scenario that plays out in my mind on this question. Here it is –

Writer: “I’ve got an idea! You write something and let me edit it, okay?”

Editor: “Uh, no. I don’t like that idea. Besides, I like what you write.”

Writer: “Oh, come on! Surely you have something you’d like to write about. Go ahead, write something. I’ll be gentle, I promise!” Smile.

Editor: “No, no… it’s not that, really. I’m just not comfortable with that part of it.”

Writer: “Wait, let me get this straight. You’re not comfortable creating something, but you are comfortable messing with the mechanics of it, right?”

Editor: “Well, I guess that’s true, essentially. But I don’t like the way you put it…”

Writer: “Of course you don’t, you dumb shit! That’s because you’re an EDITOR!!”

Not to disparage editors here, I probably need a good one more than most. The point I’m trying to make is that editing is safe, that dealing with the mechanics of a thought or an idea is safe, that there is a larger leap from editor to writer than many of us are aware of.

In music, it’s the difference between a listener and a player. A listener can sit back passively and like or dislike, all in relative safety, whereas the player puts a little (and sometimes a lot!) of himself out there for all to hear. It takes little to no courage whatsoever to edit something, or to simply listen to something. Playing for a live audience takes an amount of courage. I have friends who have had to get half ripped before they could get up the nerve to stand up and do a karaoke.

Those Who Can’t Do…

Now as far as the doer/teacher bs myth goes, I have to digress a bit here. I was one who could do, and in that I’ve come to hold those who teach in the highest esteem. They are not at all like editors; most of the ones I’ve known could do and teach both… very well. Most of us could not “do” nearly to the level we reached without a good teacher. So many fine teachers simply opt to not do. I’m of the opinion that teachers are probably a couple of ticks brighter than we “doers are,” and simply resist the emotional temptation to follow their primary passion to the end. Perhaps they have more resistance to the addictive nature of their art than some of us.

Oh, what the hell… let’s shoot for a double digression. I have grown a new respect for editing, and for that editor/filter that I finally got properly installed between my brain and my mouth. It’s been working wonders for me, with an uncomfortable realization. It’s come to be that the quieter I am, the more I’m perceived to be intelligent. People respond more positively to me and seem to open up to me, wanting to know about me. How weird is that?!

Anyway, after dropping a double digression here, we’re ready to continue. (I’ve been watching the Winter Olympics, can you tell? Plus, any decent editor would have probably deleted the last two paragraphs, if not more.)

The Pressures Of Performance

I played in various bands for seven years before I finally got a chance to record. At first I was fascinated with being able to hear myself back. Though it was painful at times, as I could hear my weaknesses, over and over again. Mistakes are seldom indulged in recording, so a player learns to first master precision in her performance, then to slowly loosen up and include her heart in her playing, letting in her individualistic style and emotion. All of that takes time, patience, persistence, a love of doing it and a passion for doing it well.

The recording process taught me those things, and more. I found that the perceived pressure of performance was way higher with recording sessions than it was for simple live performing. In my early years I occasionally had to summon some courage to play live. With time and repetition, I got used to playing live, even concerts. So it was a shock when I first put on the headphones in a large recording studio in downtown Atlanta and felt the immediate pressure of playing it exactly right, without any mistakes! The immediacy and importance of good performance in a recording session is far greater than playing for a live concert. Mess up in a session, and all the players have to play the whole thing over again. Not only that, but even back in 1974, recording time in a studio was $150 an hour. If you wasted time getting it right, you probably wouldn’t get invited back. Pressure? Yup. Pressure aplenty.

How does one work their way through that pressure to perform consistently well? Practice and experience. The confidence that slowly builds from doing a thing correctly over and over again is invaluable to one’s performance under pressure. The time usually comes when there is no more pressure, that one simply brings quality and trust to the session, and plays it with enjoyment rather than with nerves.

Writing vs Editing

All that to explain my experience with being a player rather than a listener. The experience of playing hundreds of recording sessions has translated well to my writing. I have now written probably a hundred or so blog posts, and am totally comfortable putting my thoughts out there for you to peruse, criticize, think over or ignore. I do my own editing, of course, as I don’t need to pay anyone to “clean up” my blog posts. This is all totally for fun, no money involved, and besides, it gives me a chance to practice a few of my Buddhist concepts, one of which is to be more selfless. Being able to be objective about one’s own work of any kind is a challenge of sorts. The more we love our work, the more we’re immersed in it, the more we care about it and tend to cherish whatever creativity finds its way through us, the harder it becomes to edit ourselves, to remain objective about our work.

My writing has taken the same form as my jazz playing. I start with a theme, then wander around it and usually away from it for a time, then somehow find my way back to the main theme and mercifully end it all. I’m aware that “jazz writing” is not recommended, and that editors would basically hate it. No, perhaps they’d love it, now that I think about it. There is usually so much there to edit, so much that is non-essential. They could, and probably would, cut my “jazz writing” to shreds. Well, dream on, edit-heads. Ain’t gonna happen, especially on this piece. I intend to drone on simply because I’m able to, that no editor’s eraser shall touch my manuscript! (Evil laugh inserted here.)

Recording engineers are, in a way, like script editors. I know, I owned my own small recording studio for 31 years, and engineered all my sessions. I have to say it was much more creative than simply editing manuscript. An audio engineer has a great effect upon how the song is recorded and its ultimate depth and quality. The engineer can record and mix toward the intended emotion of a song or against the emotion. And of course he can edit it… shorten or lengthen it. Unlike writing editors, who deal mostly with the mechanics of another’s writing, audio engineers can have a deep love and understanding of music without actually being able to play an instrument.

A Bashing Problem

So have I been bashing writing editors here? Perhaps, but it’s well-intentioned, I think. If I do have a problem with them, its some sort of dark, deep-seated resentment of anyone who chooses the easy way of connecting with creativity, whatever its medium. To be a creator of anything artistic takes courage, to one degree or another, whereas editors can function fairly safely within their responsibilities, with little to no pressure except, perhaps, a deadline to meet. Why I tend to resent those functions is beyond me; it is definitely a problem, and perhaps by airing it here I can get to the bottom of it and get it resolved. At this point many of you must wish I’d had a good editor for this piece.

I’m aware of most editor’s desire to add their skills to a project because they love the creative process and want to be a part of it, a contributor. I understand and respect that, and in that light, I should probably leave them the hell alone and simply appreciate their abilities, and what they bring to the party. Yes, I think I’ll do just that. Tomorrow.

Steve Hulse

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