When Sam and I decided to write a blog together, we spent about five minutes on the logistics of how it would work. It was clear we would both write. It was also clear that I would be the “editor” as well as the tech person responsible for posting new entries.
So far it has worked remarkably well. I want to reflect for a minute on what it’s like to be my husband’s editor. It’s a new role for both of us. While the editing part comes naturally to me (I’ve done it professionally for decades), the delicacy and tact required can be challenging.
If you were to ask our children which of their parents is more diplomatic, I think you would get a pretty clear answer: Dad! I suppose that comes from Sam’s decades of knowing the right words to use when a patient is suffering or afraid or when a difficult decision has to be made.
So I won’t compare being Sam’s editor to the life-and-death wisdom offered by a physician. But in terms of the health of our marriage, it’s turning out to be a good thing.
In a word, I am learning and relearning what Sam is capable of, as a person and as a writer. He continually surprises me. I love his style. You can always hear a tinge of his dry humor. On the flip side, he is rather wordy. His writing often needs simplification. He has a love of subordinate clauses that I am trying (politely) to snuff out. What you may not know, dear reader, is that I am delicately pruning in the background to make some of Sam’s posts more readable.
A good editor should be invisible
The role of an editor is a very special one. As Robert Gottlieb, former publisher and editor-in-chief of Knopf, put it, “The editor’s relationship to a book should be an invisible one.” This is from a marvelous interview in The Paris Review (The Art of Editing No. 1). Gottlieb observes that the best editors deeply, passionately love to read. As the editor, you are the proxy for the reader. It is a great responsibility.
Which brings me to my point: being Sam’s editor is teaching me how to be more tactful in other areas of our relationship. I am trying to slow down and listen more carefully to what he is saying (or not saying). Sam will tell you that I suffer from a bad case of Interruptus when he is speaking. That’s because my rabbit mind is always leaping ahead. It’s a bad habit that is very hard for me to break. I am working on it.
A good editor should be tactful
Of course, diplomacy is a great skill to develop whether you are talking to a loved one or interacting with a client. Part of my work involves coaching business authors who are writing short books. It’s easier sometimes to be tactful with a client.
When it comes to giving feedback on writing, I sometimes want to be blunt: this needs a ton of work. Instead, I offer encouragement: you’ve got some great material to work with. I have very high standards for what constitutes good (or great) prose. But the latter approach is always more fruitful as far as coaxing a more readable draft out of a writer.
What I’m finally realizing five months into our Gap Year is that Sam is my #1 client and I really want to keep him happy so he’ll sign up for more adventures, more writing projects, etc. Luckily, he is a talented and cogent writer. That makes it ever so much easier. If he would just get rid of those subordinate clauses…
P.S. Hat tip to my son, Tim Harrington, who helped with a grammar question. He may be a lawyer for Google, but he is also a superb editor.