Friday, May 13, 2011

Cues from the Coach: Listening

Listening? We writers listen all the time. We listen and watch. In fact, we’re avid observers of human behavior. Our realistic characters result from our studying fellow humans with all their imperfections and foibles. Great listeners that we are, however, we should ask ourselves whether we have selective hearing.

Turning a focused ear to others from our fly-on-the-wall perspective highlights our capability to pay close attention and discern details that others may miss. But do we give the same careful attention to our editors, our manuscript readers, or our critique group as they point out shortcomings in our stories? Do we put ego aside, cut the umbilical cord that attaches us to our words, and listen to what they’re saying?

It’s difficult to listen to others who may not share our enthusiasm for our manuscripts exactly as they are written. They may even dare to suggest changes, sometimes big ones. And we may think they are way off base, out in left field, totally oblivious to our clear and concise message.

When it comes to lay readers and critique groups, we may be able to justify—at least in our own minds—the belief that our chosen words work better than any they suggest. But our editor, a professional who has devoted considerable time to acquiring the skills to make a book shine, is a different matter. We may have to choose between sacrificing our beloved words and creating a marketable manuscript. We may even be forced to listen if we really want the end result to be a great book. And that listening may even need to be backed up by action, aka, “fixes.”

This doesn’t mean that every last change needs to be accepted without question. Talk to your editor. Understand why a change is suggested. Take a little time to mull it over before rejecting it. The goal of every competent editor is to help the writer create a fantastic book, and that fantastic book begins with listening.

One last note: listening must be two-sided. Before the work begins, the editor must listen to the writer’s needs, goals, and dreams, as well as the voice, style, and uniqueness. The writer/editor relationship that results in a powerful, well-written book is based on many things, and one of the most important is listening. How do you feel about listening to your editor? Do you believe your editor listens to you?

Linda Lane has spent years teaching writers to write well through the editing process. Now she offers a refresher course to freelance editors who are striving to meet the growing needs of writers who independently or self-publish, as well as those who submit their works to agents. You can find her at

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  1. In the world I came from, the editor was king and I was often boinked on the head by their scepter ... which provided me with a thick, albeit lumpy, noggin. I learned not to be married to my words ... but I wasn't a 'lay-down' ... if I really felt strongly about something, I'd challenge, but I was selective about what passages I was willing to die for.

  2. As an editor, I like and appreciate when a writer comes back with questions. For example, I may make a comment on something he wrote not being clear. He writes back that it's not clear because how I interpreted it was not what he meant. Then we go can look at what he wrote, what he wanted to convey, and how to get that across.

  3. Great point, Helen. In today's writing world, communication between writer and editor is essential for the book to reach its maximum potential. The editor isn't the enemy — rather, she (or he) should be the writer's best friend during the editing process. And about asking questions, the writer who asks will likely come away from the experience with increased skills that can be applied to the writing of the next book.

    Christopher, I think I like this world better than the one you came from. However, today's publishing options place far more responsibility on the shoulders of the writer because it is now that person's responsibility to produce a well-written, well-edited professional book, something that was previously done by the big houses.

  4. Good article. We often feel like we're not being listened to, as writers.

  5. My editor and I have established an excellent rapport. Neither one of us has a big ego and we listen to each other since our goal is always to improve the books we're working on. I would say we share mutual respect.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    THE TRUTH SLEUTH--coming May 18, 2011 from Five Star/Gale

  6. Jacqueline, you have the best possible scenario, and your
    book(s) will be better because of it. Thank you for sharing.

  7. I always listen to my editors but I did have one I thought didn't care for my opinion at all. She was very difficult to work with and unfriendly. Fortunately, she's no longer an issue.

  8. Like many others, I pray for the day I'll have an editor to listen to, and that we'll have a good relationship with healthy communication.

  9. Christopher, I am so glad that I never got boinked on the head like that. Whew, I don't need any more lumps. LOL

    I agree that it is vital that the writer and editor listen to each other. I have been so lucky on both sides of that fence. The editors I have worked with have always been open to a discussion on an issue that might come up. And I have really appreciated clients who come with questions. Sometimes I totally misinterpreted what they were trying to say, and by talking it through, the meaning becomes clear.

  10. This is an inspiring post for an editor to read. Thank you.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.