[Updated January 8, 2009: In my previous job as] a copyeditor, I worked closely with writers to improve their manuscripts prior to submission or, in some cases, just before publication. One of the most difficult aspects of my job was preparing an estimate after being contacted by a prospective client. Rather than simply quoting my fees, I usually took the time to discuss the writer’s objectives. I didn’t like to sell my copyediting services to someone who had unrealistic expectations about the outcome. Editing is expensive, and writers don’t always balance the cost with the potential benefit. They can be eager to spend money too soon, when finding an agent, landing a book deal, having a story published in a respected periodical, or profiting from self-publishing is not yet likely. They have more to learn.
It can be agonizing to tell writers they need to spend additional time perfecting their craft. I empathize. They’re excited about seeing their work in print. They haven’t thoroughly assessed the quality or scope of the competition. They want to be without going through the stages of becoming.
I want to be appreciative and enthusiastic about the work of every writer I encounter. Everyone needs a champion. But white lies make me uncomfortable, and encouraging someone without giving false hope is a delicate maneuver.
And the thing I would just, like, say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste, and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew that it fell short. And, like, some of us can admit that to ourselves, and some of us are a little less able to admit that to ourselves.
The good ideas come first. The skill to communicate them brilliantly in a way that appeals to readers or to an audience takes years of practice. Glass explains without sounding pretentious. I wish I were as adept.