Monday, February 22, 2010

Shaq VS. or The Editor as Coach

Last summer Adam and I were obsessed with this show called Shaq Vs. In it, basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neill, challenged top athletes at modified versions of their games. So, he was quarterback against Ben Rothlisberger. He played sand volley ball against Misty May Traynor and Kerri Walsh. He hit homeruns against Albert Pujols. And the big finale was he raced Micheal Phelps. Yep, that Micheal Phelps - the one that swims and wins lots of gold medals. Anyway - Shaq did some specific training for each event with a serious coach - including Phelp's own life long swimming coach. And the coach said about Shaq - "he's totally coachable. If I'd gotten Shaquille at the same age I got Micheal, there's no telling how good he'd be." The modified race between Phelps and Shaq was a close one and it was fun - and it made me think that sure, being a freakishly strong and tall and graceful human is great, but being open to learning and WANTING to learn - is even better.

And because everything makes me think of writing - this made me think of writing. I think of my editor as a coach.

You've got to think that getting an editor job at a major publishing house is more competitive than actually getting published. So, these editors have to be very very good. And on top of that, they're overworked and underpaid, so they have to love their jobs. And because they want to keep these jobs, they have to be successful - they want to find and edit blockbusters just as much as we want to write them. Which, isn't to say there aren't mistakes - editors are fallible. But, for us, the writers, they are the authority - on the industry, to some extent the craft and to an even stranger extent the book I'm writing. That's a hard one to get my head around - it's my book after all. But the truth is my perspective is all off - I've written it, rewritten it, built it, torn it apart, re built it. I've hated it, loved it, wanted to vomit all over it. I can't tell if it's genius or garbage.

But my editor's perspective is crystal clear. And she coaches me towards a common vision, or a better vision than the one I handed in. I like that. I didn't always feel that way, and as I settle into this career I realize I like this new attitude.

What about you? Do you like to be coached? Or do you think this whole theory of mine is crap - which it could be.


Karen W said...

Nah, I agree with you. I had one editor for a number of years and she was AWESOME! Yes, it was agony getting her revisions, but every single time it made my book stronger and better - so much so that one book won the RT Reviewers Choice Award.
So yeah, when editors talk, I listen.

Maureen McGowan said...

I think it makes so much sense. I remember early in my learning-to-be-a-writer days, I heard several big-time authors talk about how important it is to find the right editor and how important their editors have been to their careers. At the time, that bit of advice just pissed me off, because, hey, it's not like we can really PICK our editors. Especially not when we're starting out. They pick us. Or if we're lucky and our agents are good matchmakers, our agent has lined us up to be picked by an editor they think we'll work well with.
But thinking of an editor as a coach is an awesome analogy (in my limited experience). They strike a balance between encouraging and pushing us to be better, (I'm thinking about Steph's Torville and Dean post again... hmmm), to make sure we produce the best book we're capable of.

But like coaching situations... those styles have to mesh. Not every coach uses the same techniques, and not every writer responds the same way. But as authors, we need to do our best to learn our coach's language and be the best we can be. Go for the gold!!!!

Eileen said...

I'm working with two different editors right now and they have very different styles. One has a very heavy editorial hand and I'm constantly fighting to keep things in or justifying having them a certain way. Honestly, though, she's made me a better writer. I've learned tons from her editing.

The second one is more conceptual. She works with me more on story which I also like even if we don't always agree. She has a pretty light hand when it comes to line edits, which originally made me nervous, but has turned out really well. I feel like my stories are stronger for her suggestions.

Frankly, I love both of them. No one else reads your book with the attention to it that you have except your editor. No one else is really your partner in creating that book.

Stephanie Doyle said...

I think the coaching analogy is completely accurate. They can be good or bad. Good ones will make you better, bad ones will cause you to lose a little bit of the love.

If you ignore the good ones and don't listen to the advice/criticism you will never be as good as you can be.

They see the work in a way you don't. Just like a coach sees you how you perform in a way you can't.

I've been working with my editor now for 6 maybe 7 years and would be lost without her. But this comes from TRUST. You have to trust this person. If you don't I think it makes for a difficult relationship.

Sinead M said...

I like Steph's point of trust. It's integral to any coaching situation that really works, the idea the person coaching you knows more than you do.

I hope to have a great editor/coach one day

Molly O'Keefe said...

It is about trust - I totally agree. And I think there are some writers out there who will never trust any editor they way they need to - they just can't give up the ownership of thier work - the idea that they wrote it, so they are the authority.

That's just got to suck for the editor.

I also agree that the relationship is personal - you and I have a great relationship with our editor, but for someone else it just might not work.

I remember hearing the same thing Maureen did about how important the editors were to those NYT bestselling authors and how it seemed like a lottery - but I think that relationship can always be made better by both parties.

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