Inspecting a manuscript at the beginning of its evolution one ordinarily finds many problematic areas about which the author feels ‘nothing can be done’.
Given that the task of an editor is to free an author's basic potential and convert it into increased readership, the data contained in these areas is invaluable as experience. The trick is to somehow lead authors along the road to more readers while all the time encouraging them to believe that the road is their own. If that sounds deceptive, it isn’t meant to be: the road that they will walk will be the one that they wish they always had walked.
There is a scale of an author's basic latent power. Above a certain line, an individual author could be said to have more potential readership; below that line, the author could be said to have less, due to a non-recognition of key factors. Simply by introducing certain elements, the editor can cause the individual author’s work to rise on the scale. The ideal condition would be an author's basic potential entirely recovered. This would be the end goal of editing. Just how often it can be completely attained by skilled or unskilled editors is open to question. That it can be neared and that manuscripts grow markedly better under editing is not open to question.
There are three valid editing approaches.
The first and the simplest of these consists of changing the position of the author in relation to his or her text. His or her old writing possibly contains many ‘ground in’ ideas, characters, actions and scenes, so that freeing an author's basic potential is made more difficult by the continual presence of these habitual things. Shifting the author to an entirely new text permits him or her to develop as an artist. Part of the environmental change would involve isolating the ideal set-up of the author. This approach must not be overlooked, though it may initially be protested by the author who has come to see certain factors as mutually intertwined and inseparable.
The second approach which is valid in producing results is the education of the author in the foundations of his or her own story. Commonly, authors, in the process of ‘writing a story’, simply hand the reins of their creativity over to their imaginations and permit it to wander. The hope is that somehow, by an arcane magic which they might call ‘inspiration’, a mature and appealing story will result. This widespread method could be classed in two categories: authors have too wide a zone of attention, or too fixed a zone of attention. In the first, the imagination wanders over large areas unable to select elements which are of real appeal; in the second, where the imagination is fixed, it cannot wander far enough to find such elements. In neither case can the imagination alone resolve the problem about which it is concerned, due to the absence of these elements. Writers become quickly superstitious.
Personal experience in one's environment gives an author what might be called personal education. An author becomes embroiled with a tale, then frees himself or herself, solves a problem, then becomes embroiled again, draws back and solves problems anew, so that he or she accumulates a fund of personal data about the task of writing. Working usually alone, writers believe themselves to be engaged in a noble pursuit, a kind of mastering of their own imaginations. But a real writing education might be said to be the process by which the individual author comes to comprehend the accumulated importances of the long span of literature in a culture. These importances can, no less validly than personal experience, solve many of his problems. Good education can in this way convert some of the author's basic potential into greater readership.
However, done wrongly, an author’s self-determinism and persistence and ability to handle responsibility can be so reduced as to unfit him or her for a creative role in life. An artist specifically is hindered by authoritarian education, since his must be the highest self-determinism if his work is to have any value. An education which gently isolates real importances in the culture of literature can raise the individual artist to new heights.
The third process which can be considered valid in raising the individual’s potential readership is individual editing, by which is meant any method which will turn his individual work into one which has greater reader appeal without losing its soul. This ideally can be done through an almost a symbiotic relationship between the author and the editor in which the first trusts the second and the second understands the first. As an author comes to see that the areas about which ‘nothing could be done’ can be transformed into some of the most fertile and transformative parts of a work, trust grows; as an editor sharpens his or her skills of discernment, understanding can blossom.