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Creative Allies: The Writer-Editor Relationship



Alice Dayalice-day-2013

The writer/editor relationship is unique. Like it or not, writing is an isolated occupation. Notwithstanding, the finished work cannot be fully realized in isolation. Though the writer might have readers—friends and other writers who review drafts—the writer is on her or his own for the long haul. Feedback given to you by your writing group will be from their perspectives, usually without taking into account your vision (useful, though not the same as having an editor). Friends will share their responses but they aren’t trained editors. Others might read your work, though their time is limited so they might read too quickly, not providing the detailed response the piece requires, and no one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings—your loved ones want to be supportive. Your editor, too, is supportive and should be the most supportive person of your work. You hire your editor to be truthful and supportive. The two are not distinct.


I spend a lot of time on the text I’m reading and editing—I always read the work twice. But I also spend time away from the text, to think about it—the relationships between the characters of the novel, the primary plot and subplots, the pacing, how all of it works together within the world that the writing creates. My job is to learn the writer’s vision, to see the novel’s strengths and sort out its weaknesses, and describe to the writer what they are and offer suggestions and brainstorm ways to address them. As a writer you have responsibilities too.


Some advice I’ve found useful: Best not to discuss your manuscript with me while I’m reading it. Let me read your work without bias and without worrying about your feelings. As the writer who has hired an editor, you should be ready to revise your work. You aren’t “handing” the work over to the editor. It’s the writer’s responsibility to listen to my feedback and be open to what I’m saying about the manuscript. Nevertheless, the novel is the author’s, not mine. It’s the author’s responsibility to choose the solution to a problem that seems right to her or him—whether on the line level or plot level. My job is to help the writer realize her or his vision, not to change that vision. And the manuscript’s job is to evolve into the best it can be. The writer and I, together, work to develop the manuscript so that it creates a world that is growing, changing, as it’s being developed, to create a world that readers can fully enter and believe. After the novel is completed, it becomes the readers’—that is the job of the writer: to create a world which strangers can get lost in, and the editor assists the writer on that voyage. As I said, it’s a unique relationship.


About the Author

ALICE DAY has been an editor since 1988. After earning a graduate degree in creative writing at Brown University, she has worked at the book publishers Henry Holt and Company and Carroll & Graf Publishers. Writer Don Smith, whose awards include 19 regional Emmys, said of Alice Day, “She’s the kind of editor every writer should be so lucky to have.” Alice Day is an award-winning writer with eight collections of poetry and a novel that have been published by nationally-recognized publishing houses. Kathleen Wakefield, whose novella won the 2008 Cleveland State University novella contest, said “that [Alice] has been an editor at a major New York publishing house gives her insight into that complicated world; that she is a poet, I believe, gives her the sensitivity to find the beauty of a writer’s individual work.” Alice Day has the skill and experience to focus on a writer’s vision and help the writer realize it. She’s a hands-on editor who’s not afraid to cut words and offer insights. And she has a poet’s sensitivity to language.

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