Editors are not like your buddies

We all have buddies — folks we like to hang out with, or get along with particularly well at work or social functions. They may be sports buddies or bar buddies or neighborhood buddies or work on cars/yard work buddies.

But, and this is not a bad thing, these people in general are not those who will tell you much more than what you want to hear.

A true friend is someone with whom you’ve entrusted much more than that, and who will disagree when he or she thinks you are wrong. These friends won’t let you slide, will hold you accountable and will make you better. And you, hopefully, will do the same for them.

Sans the deep commitment of feelings and shared memories, however, copy editors should act more like true friends to writers than buddies.

Copy editors and writers can make this mistake. They’ll talk about subject matter, bitch about their jobs and discuss grammar, reporting and the like in congenial, general and meaningless tones.

But errors and bad writing will get in because the copy editor felt it rude to point out mistakes, or make a case. The copy editing may suffer because the article came in late, yet the copy editor demurred from noting the blown deadline. The writer may find words and phrases changed and not understand the reasons, yet neither will broach the subject.

The copy editor won’t be brave enough to ask about key changes, and the writer will be avoiding any interaction that might require a justification.

But if a copy editor acts as a true friend might, he or she won’t mind saying, “Hey, this needs changing.” Or, “How can we work on this a bit?” Whatever the issues, that editor will find a way to communicate that the job, the quality, is the common goal. That copy editor, too, will try to be aware, and learn, what changes are needed and what are just imposing one’s preferences on another.

What if that writer returns the favor? Could more communication lead to disagreements and, sometimes, arguments? Sure. Could it also mean better results, happier people and, astonishingly, more friendships of depth and value? I think it’s possible.

All this requires tact, truthfulness and assertiveness. We’ll need those traits in everything we do, so we might as well start with writing and editing — relatively easy stops on the road of life.