• Joel Ryan

Why We All Need an Editor

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

This week, classes resumed at colleges across the country, and I’m happy to announce that it was business as usual for everyone returning to campus to finish off their semester...

If only that were true.

With all that’s happened in the last two and a half weeks, many of my students have returned home to be with their families, and like most schools, our university has moved all of its classes to an online format for the remainder of the semester.

It’s new. It’s different. We’re making it work, like everyone else. But that doesn’t mean it’s been a seamless or easy transition for everyone, faculty, staff, and students included.

Many of my students were just beginning to find their footing for the semester before we left for Spring Break, and in past two weeks we’ve effectively taken a sledgehammer to the thin ice of confidence they were standing on before.

For years, I preached about Walt Disney’s “willingness to adapt” in leadership classes I taught for Disney. But as it turns out, times like these have shown that just because we have a willingness to adapt doesn’t mean we always have the will to do it.

Everyone deals with change in their own way. And if this transition to online teaching has been challenging for teachers, professors, educators, and parents, I can only image how stressful it must feel for many of our students, who are now having to balance the mental load of school with the uncertainty of global events.

That is life, and I believe that all of our students are capable of adapting to this new season of learning. They have far more power to overcome the obstacles in their life than they realize. Sometimes they just need a little push to face those fears.

Thankfully, the changes we’ve faced have provided an enormous opportunity to teach my students writers about the importance of community and creative support in their careers.

No writer (or human) is immune from fear, self-doubt, and criticism. Even the greatest writers lose confidence in their abilities at times or fear they won’t have what it takes to finish what they’ve started. In this sense, my students aren’t that different from the professional writers they admire and seek to emulate.

With that in mind, I wanted to use this week to introduce my student writers to the unsung heroes of writing and the people who’ve consistently been my biggest supporters, admirers, and confidence builders in times of doubt and uncertainty.

I’m talking about my editors.

Outside of the publishing world, few people understand what editors actually do or how important they are to the writing process, but my editors and early readers have been lifesavers and life-givers throughout my career. They are some of the most encouraging, insightful, patient, and selfless people I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. I’m looking at you Andy Hawksworth, Jack Gilbert, Lia Martin, Molly Law, Shelley Tanaka, Rita Williams-Garcia, Martin Leavitt, and Tim Wynne-Jones.

Unfortunately, a lot of people have this weird perception of editors being judgmental, cynical, grammar Nazis who only became editors because they failed at being writers. And in their cynicism, these same editors, like disgruntled English teachers or prickly old librarians, take delight in pointing out mistakes in other peoples’ writing, relishing any opportunity to belittle writers for their weaknesses.

Can I just say, this has never been my experience!

Most of my editors have been nothing but kind, gracious, and supportive. They have always had my best interest at heart and have often seen the good in my writing (and sometimes self) that I have overlooked, forgotten, or lost sight of.

They are my second set of eyes, my advocates, and my champions. They expose areas of my writing that need improvement but always know how to offer feedback that is timely, honest, and empathetic. They know my voice, my strengths, and my weaknesses better than most and are committed to challenging me, pushing me, and helping me write the best story possible.

They are not there to fix my bad writing. They have never held my hand. But in their honesty, they have always found a way to make me a better writer by forcing me to address areas of weakness in my writing instead of running from or covering them up.

So why I am writing about editors?

Because I recognize how important editors are to the writing process, to writers, and to all of us in life.

Writer or not, we all need editors in our life

They are the people who look for our best, helps us trim and cut out our worst, and teach us to refine and strengthen what is truly good and worthwhile in our lives.

No one wants (or needs) a judgmental, impatient, or cynical critic telling them what to do or what they’re doing wrong. But we all need people who will stand beside us and be honest, encouraging, and supportive in our best and worst days.

These kinds of life editors won’t fix our mistakes, but they won’t beat us over the head with them either. They push us, stretch us, and challenge us to be better and do better, always letting the little things matter.

Sometimes we need a life editor to us show us areas of our lives that need to be cut or trimmed. Sometimes, the pressures of life expose who we really are. And when the water boils, we see who rises. What parts of our confidence or character remain? Are we changed by the water or do we change the water around us? Life wisdom from one of my own life editors in Linda Love Simmons, who I am eternally grateful for.

So whether you’re a student or storyteller, when your confidence is shaky, your strength is weak, or your faith is gone, I pray you find an editor who can show you how to get up, push yourself forward, and finish what you’ve started.

In the words of A.A. Milne, “you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and loved more than you know.”

Let those words light your way and fill you with new hope and confidence today. And may you always be surrounded by people who bring out your best, refine your greatness, and strengthen you even in your worst days. They are the companions worth keeping and the editors worth heeding.

Until Today, Storytellers

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