For better or worse, in the tabletop roleplaying game industry, a lot of the people I work with are also my friends. Sometimes I become friends while working with them, and sometimes I end up working with people I’m already friends with.
My husband Clark writes for a variety of RPGs, and frequently I end up editing his work. It seems like more and more often I’m also the project manager for whatever book he’s writing for. You can read his take on ways to stay married to your editor. Here’s my take on editing people when the relationship goes beyond work.
As Clark mentions, one of the big things is that the rules you have in your nonprofessional relationship also apply to your professional interactions. This means I edit different friends in very different ways. With some writers, snark and teasing is fine—it’s part of how we interact with each other. With others, that really won’t fly because that’s not how our usual interactions go. This also means that I have to tailor my editing style whenever I start with a new writer, which is part of why I really like working with my friends—it’s a bit of a short cut since I know what to expect and what approach they’ll respond best to.
It’s also important not to take it personally when a writer gets defensive—I know I get plenty defensive when someone suggests I could and should have done something differently. It’s just a natural reaction for most of us. You need to keep these things in perspective, especially when working with someone you live with. I need to remember that my job is to make sure the writing is as good as it can be and that it fits with the style and tone of the rest of the book. If I try to save the writer from frustration by backing down from that, I’m not doing either of us any favors. And if I get pissed off at a writer because he’s frustrated, our constructive work time is over.
It’s all too easy to bitch to your significant other or a close friend about annoying things at your job. When your job is editing the work of that significant other or close friend, you have to watch how you talk about things—even if you’re talking about some other aspect of the project or a different project all together, there’s a good chance he’ll assume you think the same thoughts about his work, even if you don’t. This is a lesson I’m still learning.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that the editor isn’t always right. Some of my changes are absolutely my preference and my major defense is “Well, it just sounds better to me that way.” If the writer cares enough about changing those back to the way it was originally stated, I typically won’t have a problem with that—assuming it fits the style and tone of the book. Sometimes I’ve totally misread what the writer was saying, so my edits are just plain wrong. That’s a sign that we need to have a conversation about what he’s trying to say and how to say that clearly. Editing ideally is a conversation (I’ve talked about that before) and that matters particularly when you’re editing people you have a nonprofessional relationship with.
Clark is one of my favorite writers to edit. Of course it helps that he’s a good writer and that after so many years he knows how to write in a way that avoids most of my pet peeves. Coming back to editing his text after editing a bunch of other writers often feels relaxing to me because we both have a pretty good idea of what to expect from each other. Mind you, this doesn’t mean it’s always easy—we’ve been learning how to work together for nearly a decade.
Overall, I really enjoy editing my friends’ work. I love that through editing I’ve become friends with some really awesome people. It can definitely be a balancing act, but I find it well worth it.