I was in my 30s when I finally realized just how much I need an editor. By that time, I’d written for publication often enough to recognize that editors had the final say on what went into print under my name.

It bothered me at first. I’d already agonized over every word. I’d submitted what I thought was a perfect snapshot of brilliance. Who were they to change what I’d written and slap my name on it?

My editors were kinder and gentler than they could have been—a comma here, a clarification there, a gentle massage to fix ambiguous phrasing. But it still bothered me.

The first editor I ever really appreciated gave me an honest response to a piece I’d submitted that began: “My husband and I are, in every sense, like rabbits.”

“Is that really what you meant to say?” she asked.

Of course it wasn’t. I meant to talk about the tortoise and the hare and the race of life—not reproductive tendencies. I knew what I meant. My editor knew what I meant. My readers probably would have figured out what I meant—if they could stop laughing at what I’d actually written. My editor saved me the embarrassment.

That’s what editors do. They hold up a mirror to your literary face and ask, “Are you sure that’s how you really want to look to the rest of the world?”

Generally, the answer is no.