Editors -- Pain or Gain?
I have had some absolutely fabulous editors and I believe that all writers need a good editor. So what is a good editor? From my experience, good editors catch more than typos and grammar mistakes -- although those jobs are a big part of their contribution. Good editors bring focus to blurry passages, fix glitches in time and space, and let you know when your characters are inconsistent, weak, or irritating.
Now, these things are not easy to hear. I recently asked my best friend, who happens to be a fantastic writer, proof a partial for me. I told her to mark any places that she felt were weak and needed shoring up. I could tell when she called me back after a couple of days that she was dreading the phone call. I knew she didn't want to hurt my feelings. She started off by saying that it had been a long time since she had read an historical romance and she was probably all wrong about how they should be constructed. I told her to just give it to me. I could take it.
This great friend of mine saved my bacon. She pointed out what is a common error among writers -- thinking you had made something clear when you hadn't. When you write a novel, you carry a lot of things in your head. Almost the whole book is rattling around in your brain. All that research, all those character flaws, all those juicy snippets of dialogue you want to include in certain scenes -- all that is crammed into your head. So, it's easy to think you have told your readers something when, in fact, you have not. I had skimmed over important information that needed to be presented clearly so that the reader would understand the initial premise and the heroine's dilemma.
After a couple of rewrites, it was vastly improved and the partial is now with an acquiring editor for consideration. I don't think it would have had a chance in hell without my editor/friend's help.
On the flip side, some editors can do more harm than good. Editors who are frustrated writers and bitter that their works have not been published while yours have or will be can try to make you write the story they want to write. Or editors of publishing houses that have strict ideas of what will sell best can try to make every writer fit a small, confining mold. One of the worst times in my writing career was when a young editor at a big publishing house wanted me to put a baby and a cowboy in every romance I submitted -- even if my plot had nothing to do with babies and cowboys.
And yet . . . I would rather wrestle with an editor than do without one. Editors have made me a good writer. Editors have made me a multi-published writer. Without them, I would be a self-published novelist, telling myself that I don't need no lousy editor (and knowing, full well, that I really, really do!).
Write well. Write daily. Sweat blood.