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Friday, February 25, 2011

Guest Blog ~ Don't Fear ! ~ Erin Healy

Don't Be Afraid of the Editing Process

By Erin Healy

I’ve been a writer since I was in first grade and an editor by profession for almost twenty years, but I only published my first novel in 2008, so that pretty much makes me a greenhorn. It would be dishonest to say I started writing without thinking I had an edge. With all this storytelling savvy encoded in the wee gray cells, all this experience working with the industry’s best authors, surely I could write a bestseller on my first try.

I know, I know. I might as well have been a Scandinavian brain surgeon with no English-speaking skills writing for a US audience. The very short summary of my humbling initiation to this new career is that I am still on a steep learning curve. The Editor Erin and the Writer Erin don’t even exist in the same hemispheres of my brain. After five novels, though, I’ve succeeded in getting them to shake hands across my corpus callosum. They’re even starting to like each other.

When the shock of discovering that editorial skill does not equal writing skill faded, I was comforted by the fact that editing nevertheless lent me one clear advantage: I don’t have any fear of the editorial process. And I believe that all the dread associated with urban-legend-variety editorial horror stories doesn’t have to be a part of your experience either, even if you’ve never been an editor.

Very few novelists don’t fear the process. Some have unwavering confidence in their creative choices. Some writers are only “edited” by friends. Some have only known editors who don’t have high expectations. Some approach editors as a necessarily evil, like a lecturing doctor; we submit willingly because we feel we must, while we grit our teeth and chant, This is for my own good. This is for my own good.

More often, a novelist sends off a manuscript and then hunkers down to make battle preparations, anticipating the editor’s objections, formulating arguments against the editor’s prejudices, and compiling feedback from an inner circle of readers who loved!!! the first draft.

This defensiveness comes from the belief that the editorial process is essentially a debate about who is right or wrong. I confess there are editors who have nurtured this idea, that I was such an editor once upon a time. As representatives of your financial investor (read: publisher), we get to pull rank and sometimes must. Worse, though, are the professionals who believe it’s their job to set authors straight and aren’t very good at thinking of their role as a partner. But Deuteronomy 2:10 instructs: “Do not plow with an ox and an ass together.” So I say to authors and editors alike: Don’t be an ass. Both of you had better be strong oxen pulling in the same direction.

When I grew up, I set aside my belief in editing-as-debate. An attitude of editing-as-partnership serves me well as an editor and serves me even better as a writer. I need my editors, because it is impossible for me to read my work the way they do, and they are trained to help me write bridges that reach my readers. My novels would be sub-par without them, in spite of all the editorial knowledge I possess.

If you’d like to have a fearless encounter with your editorial partner, try entering the experience with these assumptions:

1. Believe that the editorial process is really about learning how other people read your work, and how to get more people to read your work. Good editors will bring a great body of collective knowledge to this goal. Expect them to! Invite them to! The more information you have, the more informed your decisions will be.

2. Believe you and your editor will have a good relationship. Sure, things can and do go wrong. Not all matches are made in heaven. But many relationships go bad merely because one of the partners expects the worst at the outset. The opposite also tends to be true: respect breeds respect. The more you respect your editor’s contributions, the more you will be respected as a writer.

3. Believe that disagreements are worth having. What good is an editor who doesn’t challenge you to see your work from a surprising perspective? You don’t have to agree with everything your editor says. Neither should you disregard what you don’t like. Participate in the disagreement or risk stagnating. (Editors also grow this way; we’re students too.)

We novelists face enough fear and insecurity just because we’re artists. Why add to the burden we already carry by fearing the very people who want our art to be well-received?

Yesterday I delivered a 7,000-word editorial memo to a new client who’s written her first novel. She has poured blood from her heart into this story. I lost sleep worrying how to say without devastating her just how much work I believe the book needs. I figured she’d hate my opinion, and maybe even me. Instead, she wrote this: “It was overwhelming and I shed a few tears, but then I began to look at it as a new adventure, and a way I can take my writing to the next level.”

She’s a strong ox. She’s going to do just fine.

Erin Healy is an award-winning editor and bestselling co-author of the supernatural suspense novels Kiss (Thomas Nelson | 2009) and Burn (Thomas Nelson | January 2010) with Ted Dekker. Her solo debut, Never Let You Go (Thomas Nelson | May 2010), ushered in a new brand of fiction, building on her work with Dekker, that melds supernatural suspense with female-friendly relational drama.

Healy is the owner of WordWright Editorial Services and specializes in fiction book development. She has worked with popular authors such as Frank Peretti, James Scott Bell, Melody Carlson, Colleen Coble, L. B. Graham, Brandilyn Collins, Rene Gutteridge, Michelle McKinney Hammond, Robin Lee Hatcher, Denise Hildreth, Denise Hunter, Jane Kirkpatrick, Gilbert Morris, Lisa Samson, Randy Singer and Robert Whitlow.

Healy earned her bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in communication studies from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., and began her career as an editor for Christian Parenting Today during the mid-1990s. After advancing from assistant editor, to associate editor, to editor while working for the magazine, she moved on to serve as a book editor for WaterBrook Press.

Healy currently resides in Colorado Springs, Colo., with her husband, Tim, and two children. She is a member of International Thriller Writers and the American Christian Fiction Writers. Visit for more information.


  1. Great post with great stuff. I would say nothing but thanks.

  2. Love the "strong ox" metaphor.
    I'll remember that the next time I'm tempted to do or be less.

    Thanks, Erin!

  3. Erin, this is a much needed perspective. It's not (always) about who's right and who's wrong, most of the times it's about "what's better?"

    I love editing and the challenges it presents (primarily, how do I not make this sound like me!)

    But I also love getting edits back from others I respect and who have a greater, deeper knowledge than mine. One day I hope to get back a set of editor's notes on a novel of mine. I pray I'll remember what I've learned from being on this side of the equation.

  4. Almost everything I've learned about writing I learned from writers who graciously allowed me to edit them. So much good can come out of a great partnership! I want that for every author, every editor. I owe the ox metaphor to Colleen Coble, who once told me and her editor Ami McConnell that she felt like we were oxen in the yoke with her, pulling her book uphill to a high place. I loved the image and was in stitches when I discovered the Deuteronomy passage some time later.

  5. I chose this blog for the "I Love This Blog Award!" Check out Redwood's Medical Edge tomorrow (2/26/11). Thanks for all the great information.

  6. Thank you so much for posting this advice. I am at the point now where I need an editor for my book. I am looking forward to working with someone who can teach me what I don't know yet. As a teacher, I understand the need to be open to learning. As a writer, I desire my work to be the best it can possibly be for God's glory.

    Thank you again for taking the time to share with us!

  7. I'm one of those "few novelists" who doesn't fear the editorial process. :) I actually enjoy it. All around me I see this stereotype that writers don't like changing their work, but I grew out of that feeling very quickly.

    My mindset? From the very beginning I know my work will need improvement. That fact is heavily ingrained in me. Editing is just another stage in the writing process, just like outlining and the first draft.

  8. I loved this post, Erin & Kelly. I enjoy the editing process. After all, I have Gina Holmes and Jessica Dotta as CPs. They've cut, burned, and slashed, all with oxen-attitudes. I've learned what a good editor can turn your work into. I'm looking forward to it!

  9. Great post, Erin. I look forward to editing and getting feedback. Sometimes when I send a manuscript, and I'm not sure of some parts of it, I know my editor will spot those areas and give me good advice for "fixing" it. Editors can be your best friend, and I love mine. I like to think I'm "ox strong", and open to whatever Lori, my editor has to say.


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