The Writer and the Editor
Our local poet sends along via snail mail a short essay by Miller Williams, a plea for writers and editors alike to be tactful—cooperative, not adversarial. Writers, he says, could stand a little humility: an editor’s skill at reading need not impugn their own skill at writing. And he gives the exact same advice to editors, adding specifically:
- Don’t use the verb rewrite when describing to a writer what you’ve done to a writer’s work. (Very sensible advice!)
- Be less pedantic about that and which and other narrow points of mechanics or style. (Also sensible!)1
It’s not really tact that Williams wants from editors, though tact is an especially good grease to help editors succeed at their work. What he wants instead is diplomacy. An editor should negotiate all the spaces between writer and work and reader, shuttling back and forth between them, understanding and acknowledging all of the competing interests, and working toward some win-win(-win) solution. None of that is possible if an editor has not read the work or read it so poorly that she misinterprets its purpose or misunderstands its message.
Which is also a sensible request, though it is a much taller order than “be tactful.” Fortunately for writers, there are a lot of hardworking editors out there, doing diplomacy just as Williams wants.
1 This is a battle I’ve fought—and often lost—with other editors. Their pedantry is often more deeply engrained than my insistence that the “rule” exists nowhere but their high school teachers’ grammar books.