A group of freelance editors got together last week to discuss the phenomenon of receiving submissions from authors who were sure their manuscripts came directly from God. Some statements made by writers:
God wrote my book.
I want to put God as the author on my front cover.
I’m just letting the Holy Spirit write it all.
I’m not sure how many words it will end up being. God is writing the book, and when he says it’s done, then it’s done.
God dictated this book to me; it has to be published.
On his title page, “By —–, as revealed by the Holy Spirit.”
I’m rewriting the Bible–God has told me that all the other translations are wrong and heresy, so I’m going to do it the right way.
You shouldn’t charge me for editing because it will be a service to God.
I know my book is going to be a best seller because the Holy Spirit is writing it.
God gave me this message.
The problem with this?
As with any piece of writing, a first draft will always be a first draft. Even if the words are moonbeamed from heaven, the writer will translate them into his or her own level of understanding, culture, and word choice; in other words, they won’t end up sounding exactly like God. Think of it in relation to playing telephone, only with one person in the chain whispering from the other side of a chasm.
Granted, there any many wonderful Christians who can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and be led by him. Nevertheless, God requires excellence in his temples, and it takes the Ephesians’ “brick upon brick” (see Eph. 2:20-22) method to build something beautiful and complete. We are expected to be good stewards of any gift we have, so fair dues should be given to those writers who listened, wrote, and then dared to take the next step and submit their writing to an editor, agent, or publishing house. Being a good steward, though, also includes making the presentation of that gift as outstanding as possible.
Every master craftsman has gone through years of dedicated work to earn that title. In the same way, a writer is not naturally brilliant the moment he/she starts to write. Most established writers have worked with other writers, taken classes, and written a lot before their work was published. They honed the discipline of writing on a regular basis, of learning from critique, and of figuring out how to write clearly and in an orderly way that makes sense to the reader. Successful writers take their emotions out of the editing process and let the editor do his/her job to make the manuscript worthy of publication.
God can certainly guide an author along the way, using his/her talent and his voice to create something unique and beautiful. Nevertheless, when writers use some of the phrases mentioned in the opening of this article, the statements tend to creep out editors so much that they run the other way rather than sign up for the job.
“There’s an inside joke among editors that God is the worst literary agent ever.”
It happens, quite often, that when writers talk about being instantly successful because God gave them their Magnus Opus, it translates into meaning, “God gave me the words; therefore, I will make millions, and I don’t have to do any other work to make it excellent (because it already is).” With this mind-set and lack of effort on the writer’s part, an editor usually has to do a line-by-line edit because the quality of writing, grammar and punctuation is so bad.
Any agent would be hard pressed to think of a submission that did not need editing, despite the author’s fame to date. There will always be wordiness, misspelled words, and lack of clarity on some pages of a manuscript. Writing has never been a free fall into fame and fortune. Rewrites are the norm.
“If God wrote your book, why didn’t he edit it too?”
The cost of editing
A freelance editor owns her time, and she wants to use it well. She works to pay her bills and provide for her family. She cannot give accurate quotes based on unfinished work on the client’s behalf, nor can she rely on random word counts pulled out of the air.
Editing is a business.
Editors quote estimated charges based on the market prices and their years of experience, so if an editor has given you a quote, don’t ask for a reduced fee.
The Israelites were not a bunch of freeloaders asking for favors based on who they knew (God). They appreciated beauty and experience, and they were willing to pay good money for those things.
Yes, God may be closer to you than your cochlea, but don’t assume that this means you have talent. Be humble, get input from practiced writers, and never submit anything to the bigwigs that is not 100% professional in appearance and quality. If an editor says your writing needs a lot of polishing, don’t take that comment as a criticism of your ability to hear God; just understand that you have not yet reached the level of master craftsman. Consider yourself an apprentice, learn from the best, and listen well. It was this approach that resulted in Joseph, Daniel, and David’s promotion in Old Testament times. Perhaps, by imitating the attitude of these tried and true heroes of the faith, your name will become famous, too.
Many thanks to the members of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network for their input on this topic.