Stepping Into the Arena
We’ve all as editors had the odd grumble over something an author has written. Maybe a string of noun clusters has pushed us to the limit of our patience, or we’ve broken down over a text awash with comma splices.
It’s easy to criticize when we’re on the sidelines, though. Our problems are not the author’s problems. The author creates from nothing, brings into being. We fix.
I’m reminded of a little section of speech by Theodore Roosevelt, a passage often called “The Man in the Arena.” It is but a snippet from a long address Roosevelt gave at the Sorbonne in 1910, yet the few lines in that passage convey a striking sentiment (if you can see past the male-centred language of a century ago):
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; … who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
But easy, now! Far from wishing to vilify the profession I love, I hope to make the opposite point: that editors occupy a gallant place in the sphere of communication. We don’t have to be like the critic that Roosevelt dismisses in the first line, because we have a choice. We may choose to step into the arena, alongside the writer.
What does that mean in practice? It means remembering that we’re there to support someone while they face a very difficult task — standing with them, not apart from them. It means suppressing the knee-jerk reaction “What on earth have you done?!” and saying instead, “I’m here for you.”
What role do you feel editors play in relation to authors? Do you see yourself in a supporting role, or is the author-editor relationship more complex than that?
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