Not terribly long ago I wrote a long blog entry on what I thought were some of the positives and negatives of being an author. It was rather philosophical, stating unequivocally that the upsides outweighed the downsides – in terms of the negatives, I was referring to two classes of situation – people who are friends and acquaintances who want 'editor time', and those who have become friends, who want to control you (intentionally or otherwise).
I was having a conversation today with some family, and I was suddenly struck with what I think is a universalism, and which sheds a tiny bit more light on the second class of downside of being an editor. In a nutshell, a distant family member of mine is losing his battle with an awful condition, and a good friend of his has performed a carer function – albeit informally. While never foreseen, a clash occurred when the said 'carer' wanted more powers and information (financial, medical) to help. In my mind the intentions were philanthropic, but standing back it was, and is, wrong. This person with the affliction had family who were rightly entitled to provide these more important roles and they gladly gave it.
Experiencing this discussion it dawned on me that it hit close to the mark on what it means to be an editor and having strong friends and acquaintances. Or almost any other profession or important role – hence the universality.
Regardless of formality, there are services that people give to other people. Sometimes there is a strong acquaintanceship or friendship involved, or developed. This is fine but the person giving the service must be wary. The reason why is because friendship and love are hard to define and even with good will, people are people and they want to be more involved. Before you know it, the involvement goes beyond the pale and people get hurt – especially when there is friendship or love involved. This situation was classic with the example I gave above, but it also happens in the professional field all too often – and exacerbated when relationships are formed virtually.
I have experienced, as an editor, authors dictating to me what I should do. I have the authority to exercise my role and I have the training – no one else does in the business relationships I have. Then it gets worse – because in the minds of the individuals concerned they are in the right and because they are 'friends' or the like, there is compulsion to be 'reasonable'. As editor, I have to draw the line on occasion, for many varied reasons – and suddenly I hurt the individuals concerned. In hindsight, it was inevitable. From day one it was going to happen.
What's the answer; what's the universal approach? Not sure really, but I can say be careful who you befriend within professional (or serious-role) relationships, beyond professional courtesy. At the same time, don't separate yourself completely. Life has risks. But do not, I repeat, do not befriend willy-nilly. A friendship, like a marriage, can be just great, but suddenly out of the blue someone, usually unwittingly, steps over the line, and then there is a lot of discord, and nervous energy spent.