Well, first up, I do not need an editor for the headline, as I am not referring to Julius Caesar. I am actually referring to a wonderful editor I had, by the name of Ceaser Williams. I was thinking about Ceaser and the importance of editing after reading a blog post about self published writers needing support. It made me think of the wonderful support I had when Ceaser was my editor. Having had editors before and after Ceaser, I can say with confidence that Ceaser was a great editor. Now Ceaser was a newspaper editor, which I’m sure is different from a book editor in many ways. But, the key components that made Ceaser a great editor are something every writer could benefit from and every editor should have.
1. A love of great stories. Ceaser always loved a great story. He loved hearing one, reading one, telling one. He’d often be at the center of great conversations with people, listening to their stories or telling his own, in animated fashion that would attract more to join the group. Ceaser loved stories, and I think a top editor has to first and foremost love a good tale.
2. Excitement. It makes a world of difference when the person who is about to sit down to read your story is excited. It’s the best feeling in the world to have them say, “come, come, let’s see.” I think this ties into number one, because if you love stories, you’ll always be excited at the possibility of seeing a great one. I remember once, Ceaser thought it would be a great idea to send me to Indianapolis to ride from their to Sedalia (location of the state fair) with the carnies so I could cover how the midway rides got from one destination to another. “Yeah, it will be great. You’ll ride in the truck with them, sleep in the cab, get a real sense of what life is like.” His eyes gleamed, wide with excitement, he waved his hands animatedly and he was so excited, it seemed he charged the air around him, filled it with possibility so it practically screamed, ‘this could be your great story!’ Thankfully, the people with the rides objected (they cited things about liability and their insurance company). Certainly the 22 year old me was much more excited about this story than the me of today (who thinks riding in the cab of a truck across the country with strangers is not my idea of fun).
3. Fundamentally and inextricably believes you can tell a great story. I think this is where a lot of writer-editor relationships fall apart. And this is where the best editors really shine. Whenever I turned in a story to Ceaser, he always had this belief that it had the potential to be a great story, that I could write a great story. I think when people expect big, writers give big, and they try big. For a lot of writers, if they know their editor thinks they’re average, and the things they’ve turned in so far have all received a lackluster reviews and grumblings of ‘that’s about what I expected from you,’ a lot of writers aren’t going to try very hard. Now, some will take that as a challenge and move heaven and earth to impress the editor, but I think that’s the minority, not the majority.
4. Willingness to dig in and improve the story. This, too, I think goes with number three. If the editor doesn’t fundamentally believe you have the ability to write a great tale, they’re not going to pull out all the stops to help you get the story right. They don’t think you have it in you, so they’re not going to ‘waste their time’ trying to squeeze water from a stone (or blood from a turnip; or whatever other pithy downhome cliche you’d like to insert). And maybe this is a compatibility issue, where writers and editors need to have styles that match, because if the editor’s style is so different they think the writer sucks, the relationship doesn’t work.
I think every writer deserves an editor with those qualities, and I hope every writer gets the chance to work with one. Here’s to Ceaser and all the editors out there like him!
P.S. Ceaser passed away two years ago, but I remember him fondly.