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On Confidentiality

private confessions, public confidence

On Confidentiality

A keystone principle of my work as an editor  is confidentiality. I believe this is crucial, whether we're working on a poetry collection or an academic thesis, a science book or a cookbook.

No matter the subject matter or genre, my client is pouring heart and soul into the project.  If I'm to help him or her produce their best possible work, the art that's in truest harmony with their creative impulse, s/he must be comfortable confiding in me, confessing to me, trusting me with sh*tty first drafts and skeletons in the closet.

Ad here's the paradox:  confidentiality gives birth to confidence!

Confide, confidential, confession, confidence--they're all from the same Latin root, to do with collective/shared trust/faith. The paradox of the writer telling me his/her secrets and then putting his/her best work in the public eye is mirrored in how we use those words.

"Confession" originally connoted something more like a public declaration. (The eleventh century King Edward's title "the Confessor" denoted "King Edward who declared his faith," not King Edward whispering on a pillow or in a booth in a church to a priest behind a grille).

But organized religion and public credos notwithstanding, anything to do with faith and trust (the fid/fess part of the Latin word) quickly magnetizes connotations of privacy, intimacy, even secrecy. The con part of the Latin word means "with"--a mutuality, a give and take, a shared experience, shared in private.  

"faith/trust with another" is a mutual understanding in the context of several possible relationships, and none more applicable than the editor-client relationship, in my opinion. Mutual understanding means I/the editor provide a safe, listening space in which the client can hear her/himself think and speak, and in which s/he receives words and thoughts reflected back with respect, honor, and clarity.

Of course, impeccable spelling/grammar/punctuation/fact-checking is part of this reflection with respect, honor, and clarity, and of course these things are essential to bring a work into the light of day.

But the true alchemy lies in the transformation from confiding in an editor in strictest confidentiality to setting forth a body of work as a printed book or electronic file publicly available to anyone who wishes to read it. How does this happen? And how come the use of the word reflects the transformation--how can "confess" mean both entrust a secret to someone and reveal and announce in public?

Here's the crucial point, the point of transformation. All artists--and we're all artists--are individual, both in our psychophysical make up and in our histories, our interests, our goals, perspecties, level of awareness. We're as individual as drops of water, surface tension tight coat around us, different molecules included. At the same time, we, our experiences, our creative impulses, are all of  the water. Every artist I have ever known is reaching toward something universal, beyond the sometimes messy/painful/private details of her/his experience.

Working with someone in confidentiality is analogous to lighting a lamp in the darkness to get the project ready for daybreak. It's finding the pivot points between individual and universal.

And that's why all good editors, teachers, and healers too, tell stories about people they've worked with--without breaking confidence, obviously. If I'm advising someone not to look at his manuscript over the weekend and reinforce the advice with a story of someone else I had do that who achieved tremendous, successful clarity on Monday morning, or if I can advise against using a particular publishing company  based on a past client's negative experience, I myself am serving as the pivot between universal and individual, and I'm offering my client the confidence in my experience helping others find that pivot. No client will ever hear personal details about any other client, but clients love to hear stories of others' journeys into improved manuscripts or publication. It lends them confidence.

* If you're interested in working with me, you may contact me through the contact form, and I'll look forward to a conversation.

About the Author

Ela Harrison

Ela is a wordsmith and herb lover who has lived in many places and currently resides in Tucson, AZ.

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