Tuesday, November 1, 2016

That Old Black Magic

Whoever Americans elect as president next week, I hope she has a witch as her top aide, as does
South Korea's president. We're going to need that old black magic to get well.

Writers need black magic, too; and editors are its source.

In his new memoir,
The Accidental Life, Terry McDonell quotes Norman Cousins, the longtime editor of Saturday Review, on the art of editing:

Nothing is more ephemeral than words. Moving them from the mind of a writer to the mind of a reader is one of the most elusive and difficult undertakings ever to challenge the human intelligence. This is what being an editor is all about.

Editors are advisers, coaches, cheerleaders, therapists, parents, midwives and—as Cousins implies—sorcerers.

They're also missionaries, as
Robin Lloyd, contributing editor for Scientific American, says:

My motivation as an editor is clear, compelling communication for the reader. Delivering that is my first job. Readers are looking at every word for an excuse to bail out—to stop reading a story. My job is to prevent that and to keep them reading this story by focusing on clarity, pacing, logic, arc, and sparkling prose.

Above all, editors are match-makers, pairing willing writers with willing audiences.

That means an editor must be conversant in many fields; sense which topics are ripe for coverage; and know which ideas, words and phrases will keep readers reading.

No mean feat.

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