This is a part of a seven part Q&A with Eric Witchey, interviewed by M.K. Martin. To see the introduction to this craft talk series click here. To read Part 6 click here.
M.K. Martin: Editing – For some writers editing can range from daunting to boring. What can writers learn from self-editing that paying a professional will never teach them?
Eric Witchey: I have strong opinions on this. What I will say may be shooting myself in the foot since I do various types of teaching and editing for pay. In my own defense, I also turn away fiction clients because they are looking for a fix instead of personal development of craft. I especially turn away writers who believe once I fix their grammar, punctuation, and spelling, they will be on the New York Times best seller list. I have no time for such nonsense.

Fiction Fluency – Short Story Workshop” Wordcrafters, 2017

Strong opinion: If a writer is paying an editor, the writer should be working on craft to cut that editor out of the cashflow. If a writer is bored by editing, they should be working on craft to better understand how editing relates to impact on the reader. In fact, if they are bored by editing, they should probably look for another line of work. I find that writers who are bored by editing are generally seeking something that has nothing to do with the reader’s experience. If a writer is overwhelmed by editing, they should be working on craft so that the process becomes less daunting.
The publishing world has many kinds of editors: story editors, continuity editors, style editors, line editors, legal editors, research editors, acquisition editors, executive editors, administrative editors, marketing editors, and on and on. When most writers “pay an editor,” they aren’t able to say what they are buying. Often, they are only buying a line edit. Once the line edit has been done, the writers write cover letters that say things like, “I had the story professionally edited by so-and-so.” Some acquisition editors and agents hear, “The grammar and punctuation will be cleaner.” That’s good, right? Others hear, “The writer has weak skills.” Not so good.
The publishing world of today includes a whole industry based on taking advantage of a writer’s hopes and dreams. That industry is made up mostly of “experts without portfolio.” It’s quite ugly to me. What I think writers should do is pay an “editor” to teach them to revise based on clear, executable principles of craft. The “editor” should read the text, or a portion of the text, then provide the writer with a list of clear, executable, dramatically principled techniques to apply to the work. The writer should then go away and revise accordingly. Repeat until the “editor” is out of business. Techniques provided might include methods of development of the character relationships to overarching theme. The techniques might include application of commas with independent clauses and coordinate conjunctions (or the violation of that normal grammar rule for a particular character in order to create a subliminal tug toward “feeling” the socio-economic status of that character in the heart/mind of the reader).
Once a writer has full control of dramatic principles based in character and theme and has an ability to manipulate style and voice to support character and story, they will no longer need to pay anyone to do anything for them. Instead, people will edit for free or even pay the writer for the right to edit the work.
I have only one rule in writing fiction. Rule number one is “Affect the emotions of the reader.” Everything else is technique. If the writer’s true goal is rule 1, no aspect of the process is boring or daunting. All aspects of the process are fascinating because of their relationship to impact on the reader. Developing a personal catalog of technique becomes a pleasure. Applying those techniques becomes a pleasure. The magic is no longer in the writer, and the writing is not about what the writer gets from having written. The magic is between the page and the heart of the reader.

About Eric Witchey: Eric Witchey is known for teaching clear, useful skills that allow students to create salable fiction. His classes draw from his experience teaching at two universities, a community college, countless conferences, and in many corporate and private settings. He has sold work in ten genres with over 140 short stories and six novels in national and international markets. His work has been honored by Writers of the Future, New Century Writers, Writers Digest, Short Story America, the Eric Hoffer Award Program, the Irish Aeon Awards, among others.
His articles have appeared in The Writer’s Magazine, Writer’s Digest, and other online and print magazines. Visit Eric Witchey online at

About M.K. Martin: M. K. Martin is a motorcycle-riding, linguistics nerd. A former Army interrogator with a degree in psychology, she uses her unique knowledge and skill set to create smart, gritty stories that give readers a glimpse into the darker corners of the human mind. Find out more at