Seven Sensible Steps to Success as a Writer
Step 7 (Continued): One cruel word…
While a good editor is a valued partner in the production of a book, it's also true that an unsympathetic one can turn what should be a rewarding experience into a misery, indeed destroy creativity altogether. Which means that you probably have the wrong editor, and need to find – or ask your publisher to find – another.
In the course of a writing career stretching over thirty years and some eighteen books, I've had only a few editors that I couldn't get along with. One, I remember, tried to get me to change a direct quote because that person didn't agree with the substance of the remark.
It's a cardinal rule of non-fiction writing that you don't alter quotations. So to save my sanity after a long tussle, I turned it into indirect speech, amended the word, and thereby ruined the point of the story. I've since changed it back again.
On another occasion one misplaced word almost killed off a book. I was working on a set of short stories. The publisher was preparing another of my books for the press at the time, and I made the mistake of asking if the editor liked the manuscript. ‘Oh … I suppose so,’ came the reply, ‘once I get the knife into it.’
Perhaps a joke was intended. But the immediate effect on me was to stop any more work on these stories. I ceased writing half way through one tale, put them in a drawer, and didn't bring them out again for over ten years. Even then I couldn't bring myself to finish the story I'd been writing when the incident happened.
Everyone who puts their work before the public … writers, artists, performers, politicians … are engaged in a high wire act, in which their self-confidence is the main thing that keeps them aloft.
One tries to be resilient. But one cruel word - one misplaced bit of mockery - can be enough to cause a stumble and, if you’re very unlucky, bring the tight-rope walker crashing to the ground.