Editors work with energy. Writers also work with energy. But the energy is different. For a writer it’s deeper, it’s more personal, it’s intimate. This is not to say that what editors do is unimportant, only that writers have relationships to their work that no on else can have.
Who else spends years with a particular book? Who else has studied every word, not just for meaning, but also for rhythm and sound? Who else is possessed for years by this fictional world and its characters? Who else knows the narrative flow so deeply, and understands the purpose of particular characters in a the main character’s story line? Who else has woken in the middle of the night to scribble a dream down, a dream seemingly delivered from nowhere that solves a particular thorny problem? Who is the first to cry when a character dies?
An editor looks at a book from a different place, a more distant place. It’s not a bad thing to have someone involved who does not share the level of intimacy with a work that the writer does. It can be helpful. It can make the book better. It can send the writer back to research to find out things she did not know she needed to know, to deepen certain passages, to clear up anything that’s vague.
It can also be painful, and wrong sometimes. Editors can feel that a book needs things the author does not feel it needs. They can sometimes go overboard with their suggestions. They can sometimes suggest the book go in a direction that feels completely wrong to the author.
So how do you know the difference? How do you know what to pay attention to and what not to pay attention to?
I hold that because of the intimacy of writing a novel and working for years with a character, the writer will be able to feel the difference. If she’s not developed that intimacy, if she’s not worked deeply, then she’s apt to be swayed in any direction. A novel that has deep roots, roots planted and nurtured by the author, knows what kind of tree it is. A novel that lacks these roots is tumbleweed and can be blown down the road with a puff of wind. It is your right to take care of your work. You are its steward and you should take that responsibility very seriously.