On Editing

(Sorry, friends! I’ve just moved to a new place, and things have been crazy. But here is the post you were supposed to receive on Monday.)

Several months ago I had a conversation with an editor who had set up her own e-publishing company. As a freelancing editor, I inquired about the company to see if it might be a good place to offer my freelancing services. But the email conversation I ended up having with this editor made it perfectly clear that we would not be a good fit together. Our ideas differed greatly in how we approach a manuscript.

She said that she didn’t like to break up the editing process in rounds. Rather than do a development edit, substantive edit, and then copy edit in individual rounds, their company liked to take care of all the editing in one large “comprehensive” edit, she call it.

And I asked her why she thought it was a good idea to do a copy edit at the same time as a development edit. Wouldn’t many of the words change once the author started putting in the big picture revisions from the development edit?

Her response was something like this: I don’t understand why so many people ask me this. Not much should change throughout the editing process. Unless the editor is rewriting the author’s story, most of it should be the same. It’s the author’s work, and I can’t stand it when editors try to change so much of it. Then it’s not the author’s work anymore. It’s the editor’s.

Now I’ve heard statements like this before from self-published authors. In fact, I have had many self-published authors tell me this is the very reason why they don’t want to be traditionally published—because the work won’t be theirs anymore.

And now I’m going to tell you all the same thing I told that editor and those self-published authors.

Editing is not a bad thing. Lots of edits are not necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t mean that the author is a bad writer. Authors are too close to their work to notice even obvious mistakes at times, and all authors need an editor to point those out to them. I’ve been hired to do copy edits on manuscripts that needed serious “big picture” edits, but I wasn’t allowed to say a word because I’d been hired specifically for a copy edit

And it was painful.

As an author providing a product to your reading audience, wouldn’t you want to give them the best product possible?

What happens when one of your character’s personalities changes throughout the book for no reason, and you don’t have an editor there to tell you? What happens when your climax shouldn’t actually be possible because you forgot to foreshadow some important details? Or what if you forgot to resolve one of your minor conflicts?

Editors are there to make your work solid. They’re there to get rid of all the plot holes, character inconsistencies, and other errors. There are so many things to keep straight in a story. A book has LOTS of words in it. Odds are, you will need to change many of them, and that’s okay. Because you should want to strengthen your story. You should want to make it the best it can be, and it’s okay that you can’t do that on your own.

I believe that editing should be done in rounds, working from the big stuff, to the little stuff. Lots of people should read a manuscript and offer feedback, and authors should not be insulted by such critique. Serious writers should want to learn from their mistakes. They should want to become better. They should want to give their audience the best book possible.

I don’t understand why authors would feel like the book isn’t theirs anymore after doing edits. Once an editor or writing group points out those big errors to the author, it’s up to THEM to figure out how to fix it. Essentially, those edits become the author’s edits. The work still ultimately becomes what the author makes it to be.

I don’t know where I would be without my writing group and other readers. They point out embarrassing mistakes that I’m not able to notice for myself. Like not having a plot 30,000 words into my story. Big problem, yes? Needed to change quite a bit of words, yes? Yes. And I did. That was four books ago for me. I’ve since then discovered that I am a plotter. I need to plan out my books before I write them. These days, I start with a plot when I write my stories, and they’re so much better off for it.

Don’t be scared of critique. Be excited to make your book better. Be excited to become a better writer.

Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

I promised a WriMo post, so here it is.

I’m currently at 45,479 words. All signs point toward me finishing, and I’m feeling like a champion. I put a lot of things on hold so I could participate in NaNoWriMo (like homework, TV shows, and . . . yeah, that’s pretty much all that’s going on in my life right now, which is probably why I’ll be able to get to 50,000 words—so I guess there really isn’t a lot going on in my life, but still).

The point is that even if I didn’t make it, NaNoWriMo encouraged me to write 45,479 words that I normally would not have written. And this is important for all writers to keep in mind regardless of whether or not they reach the 50k. So thank you for that, WriMo.

But still I have to say I’m a little disappointed in WriMo. While it did encourage me to write, I’ve decided that it’s simply not for me. I like being able to take more time when I write so that I can better plan the flow of the story and so that the words I spit out aren’t quite so awful the first time around. I think that WriMo actually makes it so that I have more work to do because I’m going to have to rework everything I just wrote. But that’s okay. Now I know it’s not for me. And I’m so glad that it’s worked as a motivation for so many writers. Sometimes everyone needs a good kick in the pants.

Tangent time.

Want to know a secret?

Finishing a book is like having our birthday. For some reason we expect to feel different when we’re a year older, but we don’t. Being 19 is exactly like being 18. Being 25 is exactly like being 24. And the real disappointment: being 21 is exactly like being 20. Likewise we expect to feel different when we finish writing a book, but we don’t. We feel exactly as we did when we were struggling, first-time writers.

But don’t fret, those of you trying to finish your first book. Because what we don’t realize is how we’ve grown during that year or during the time it took to write that book. We’ve learned new lessons, we’ve discovered what is and isn’t working for us, we’ve (hopefully) figured out what we are and aren’t good at, we’ve discovered new likes and dislikes. And in the end, we can decide that we are better off because of that year of growth. Now we can set new goals for improvement.

So it doesn’t matter how much we’ve written or how old we are. It’s what we’ve learned. Me? I learned that WriMo isn’t for me. Others may have discovered a new subplot, a new character, a new writing formula, a new genre, whatever.

Now it’s getting time to revise and make that book shine. Don’t stop just because November is over. We all have a lot of work still to do. Set a goal for finishing that story (if it’s longer than 50k) or for finishing your first round of revisions. Motivate yourself now that WriMo soon won’t be there. Create writing challenges with your friends to encourage you to keep at it.

Whatever you do, don’t stop.