Recently I spoke with a cousin who is also writing her first book. As we talked about the process, the ups and downs, the conversation turned to editing. We mutually agreed that editing and being edited is a hard thing. When you write, you put so much of yourself into the story, whether through personal experience, similar experience, or just plain effort. Through the writing process, you live the story; fiction becomes real and non-fiction is relived as you share with your audience your story. It all becomes very personal. It’s your baby! And then, like any anxious parent on the first day of school, you send it off for review, hoping the editor will treat it kindly.
This whole process is not unlike a recent article I read. (Ensign, April 2011, D. Todd Christofferson) The article describes a conversation with a currant bush and the gardener who owns the bush. After cutting the overgrown bush down nearly to the ground, the bush complains, “How could you do this to me? I thought you were the gardener here.” And the gardener lovingly replies, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and someday, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down.”
I think this is editing in a nutshell. Sometimes the story we’ve written isn’t the story we meant to tell and the editor is there to kindly cut us back down to size. They know best, what will be most effective, what will appeal to the audience, what is totally irrelevant to the story. It’s painful. But it’s necessary to turn the story into a beautiful work of prose. Thus, so many books with page-long acknowledgements, thanking their gardeners!