Everyone Needs An Editor


Your boss needs an editor.

Strike that.

Everyone needs an editor.

But first, back to your boss. How many times have you been in a meeting turned Charlie Brown special? You know your boss is speaking English, but all you hear is “WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH.” Fighting against dueling urges to check your email or stick pencils in your eyes to stay awake, you’re left with little else to do than ponder the 1,001 ways your boss could have better communicated himself. In other words, you edit them. (Whether or not you decide to make these “edits” known to them is at your discretion).

What if you lived in a magical land of efficiency where bosses ran their bullet points by an editor so that no meeting lasted longer than ten minutes? What if the main takeaway from any meeting was brought up at the very outset instead of 30 minutes later or whenever the boss tires of hearing himself speak?

Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.” – T. S. Eliot

But, out of the mouths of hypocrites often falls the sharpest of criticisms. I wrote a 290-word introduction to this article I thought was good and somewhat funny, but it led nowhere. I do this all the time. I start to write and think I know exactly where I want to go with an article, but, nearly every single time, I write hundreds if not thousands of words that never see the light of day beyond my own computer screen. I have to edit myself or risk publishing content no one wants to read.

Even more condemning against my hypocritical stance on long-winded bosses, I need an editor after I write, a gift not offered to public speakers. My words need “wranglin’” so that cute colloquialisms, verbosity, and an abnormal abundance of alliteration don’t attack my articles. I need someone to look at my words and tell me what’s blatantly wrong, whether I’m confusing the reader, or if I even know what I’m talking about. I have to allow others to edit my work so I’ll become a better, wiser writer.

“Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.” – Samuel Johnson

No matter your medium, you need to allow two editors into your life. (And yes, I’m fully aware of the self-indulgence of an editor espousing that everyone needs an editor, but stick with me).

Make room in your studio for an external editor and an internal editor.

Allowing space for an external editor can be daunting to an artist, especially to those beginning to take themselves seriously. What if everyone else’s work is better than mine? What if no one likes my work? If you are a bourgeoning artist, know that these questions are often in the minds of everyone else in the room. However, you can defeat artistic insecurity by allowing like-minded individuals to scrutinize your work. 

This is one of the many reasons why groups like Art House Dallas are an immense treasure to artists, especially to those just starting out. With events like Art House Exchange and Feedback, there’s a roomful of external editors who will tell you the truth in love about your work. These are the kind of people you want to “edit” your work. 

If you’re not able to enjoy the benefits of a local meet-up, scour the Internet for like-minded people who will criticize your work with the sole intention of making you a better artist. Don’t expect such a community to find you. If you’re serious about getting better, be proactive in seeking others who can help you get where you want to be.

Creatives tend to be everyone else’s external editor, whether asked or not. While you may not verbalize it, you’ll read an article, contemplate a painting, or listen to music and think, this is good or this is beyond wretched. After all, you’ve seen enough of each to know the difference, or you have a well-defined notion of your own artistic sensibilities. But when it’s your own work, your internal editor might shut down or go into overdrive:

NO ONE IS EVER GOING TO SEE THIS. Why have I wasted days on this? It’s ridiculous and everyone’s going to hate me now.

THIS IS THE BEST THING I HAVE EVER DONE. I can’t believe it only took me a few days. I’m never going to make anything else like this in my life. The world will love me.

This is hyperbole, but if you’re nodding your head in agreement, then your internal editor needs a reality check. Don’t trust the voice that tells you what you’re doing is worthless, or that what you’re doing makes you amazing. Trust the subtle voice that says, “You need to take this small part out. You need to rearrange the order. You need to work a little bit longer on this project. Your external editor was right about that part. It’s not finished, but you’re getting close.” It’s simple, timeless, true advice — trust yourself.

Seek to find the right external editor and seek to know the real voice of your internal editor.

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft.” – H.G. Wells

The thing is, everyone needs an editor. I need an editor. You need an editor. And, pardon me, but your mom needs an editor too. All of us are all too often so myopically focused on our own lives that we fail to grasp its larger meaning, or to even see our own blind spots.

Your external editors are likely already part of your life. Think of those people, whether friends, family, or co-workers, who know more about you than anyone else. Who are the people you know would tell you the truth about any situation, even if that truth could hurt you in some way? Whether it’s related to the art you create—That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve read in my entire life—or the life choicesyou make—You’re 29. Shouldn’t you be out of your parents house by now?—you need close friends to be the collaborative, external editors of your life.

But, ultimately, responding to those suggested edits is always and ever up to the artist. Sometimes an artist’s vision is so cemented in their mind it becomes a reality no amount of outside influence can change. Sometimes an artist’s pride defeats their openness to alternatives. Sometimes an artist’s lack of confidence leads to being too open to suggestion, resulting in a diluted vision for their creation. Balancing your internal editor with the suggestions of your external editors is a tightrope walk.

I know this inner conflict from my own aversion to being edited, even though I know such editing is for my benefit. They’re my words; I know best where to place them, but that’s writerly hubris. Allowing room for editors in my life chips away at that arrogance.

I also know this inner conflict from my relationship with God. In many ways, He desires to edit my life in such a way that makes much of Him and less of me. But, I all too often want my name in the byline, whether that’s in an article I’ve written, words I say, or the life I lead. There are days I'd rather edit Him than the other way around.

When He asks me to correct a certain part of my life, I push back because He doesn’t “understand” the big picture.

When it comes to my life, the editorial policy ends with me, right?

In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller says, “You can call it God or a conscience, or you can dismiss it as that intuitive knowing we all have as human beings, as living storytellers; but there is a knowing I feel that guides me toward better stories, toward being a better character. I believe there is a writer outside ourselves, plotting a better story for us, interacting with us, even, and whispering a better story into our consciousness.”

Granted, that whisper of a better story is hard to hear above the “WAH WAH WAHs” of daily life. However, with attention to your inner editor, involvement with a community of external editors, and a humble nod to a Supreme Editor, the stories you tell with your life and your art will only get better.

Everyone needs an editor. Now go find yours.