Reading Alex Clark’s Guardian piece last week on the Lost Art of Editing, author and long-serving publishing personality Carmen Callil’s derogatory comments on the role played by editors may have incensed me if her logic weren’t so painfully narrow. Let’s go through her ‘argument’:

i)  The general gist of Miss Callil’s opinion seems to be that the editor’s function was to stroke the author’s ego, a superfluous act fuelled by some old-fashioned nonsense about ‘relationship’ no doubt [Miss Callil’s inference here, I stress]

Author Miss Callil’s ego clearly doesn’t need more stroking hence her disregard for the role of Editor. No, give her a great copy-editor for a quick spell check and she’s practically good to go. After that, all she needs is a sales and marketing department to promote and deify her.

In her argument, there is no sense of the largeness that opening up your work to another perspective entails and demands. An editor advises you on your blind spots. A good writer, like a good student, should always be open to improvement and challenge. A good editor, in my opinion, challenges a writer to push beyond their limits. Good writing is all about conflict. If you shy away from an editor – the ideal sparring partner because you each are fighting for and loving the same thing – then how will you handle yourself in the public arena? Defensively? Aggressively? Arrogantly?

ii) Miss Calill declares that bemoaning the downsizing of the editorial department is like ‘moaning about the good old days’ where ‘drinking too much and a partiality for parties and too much smoking’ was the norm.

I’m always alarmed by this argument: Out with the old, in with the new. People only get comfortable in this way – i.e. socialising, relating - if the foundations beneath their feet are strong. Is it conceivable that newcomers arrive (mainly with MBAs) and rather than taking the time to get beneath the skin of this, to the real sinew and bone, they determine that the whole exercise is superficial and that an entire makeover is what is called for? In the process, whole unspied foundations are swept away.

But this attitude may have done us – Editors and Writers - a service. Now placed in a satellite position outside of the ‘industry’, editors are no longer working at the whim of budgets and sales figures but only on the written word and the individual writer, providing quality assurance once more. Well, that’s what we’re gunning for.


Quoting from the piece, there are counterarguments from the likes of author Blake Morrison and Frank O’Connor respectively. These are:

“Editing isn’t just about semicolons but about engaging with content and ideas; it means seeing the blindingly obvious flaws that the author – through vanity or laziness – has missed.”


“A good teacher who does not say ‘Imitate me’ but, ‘this is what I think you are trying to say.’

The writer of the piece, Alex Clark, sums up the responsibility of the editor to the writer best for me as the ‘fuzziness of the line  between facilitating a writer’s work, with the occasional firmness and wing-clipping that entails, and the kind of over-editing that can result in a loss of authenticity and spontaneity’.

Being edited can be a gift and a rites of passage when handled with consideration and care. In a family set up, think of the editor as akin to a loving big brother/sister. They do not presume to be more intelligent than you but they do have a wider perspective on things simply for the fact that they’ve lived longer, seen a little more. Unlike you, the editor has read countless drafts across genres and styles, various levels and stages. Not perfected, not published. But raw. That bone and sinew I was talking of earlier. Where you do deep, they'll do broad. Where you go broad, they'll go detailed. The perfect foil and counterbalance. They have your back. And how many people can say someone has that these days?

So as a writer how do you get your needs met by an editor? How do you get the most out of the experience? To your advantage.

{To find out, check out Part II of this blog – coming soon}

Signing Off,

(Editorial Manager)