Post #121 – How You The Writer Can Help The Process of Editing

I talk a lot about how editing is a conversation between writer and editor designed to make the product (be it a book, a game, a script, a whatever) the best it can be. What that conversation looks like is this:

1. You send me the document (aka the manuscript, the MS, the thing, your draft)
2. I open it in Word and via applications of comments and Track Changes, begin to mine the good content from the bad.
2b. This includes deleting extraneous elements
2c. This includes adding, changing or reconfiguring existing material into a new position.
2d. This also includes leaving questions in comments that need to be addressed.

Here for example are two such questions: (the first from one edit, the second from a novel edit)

a) “Are you saying that you have three events occurring simultaneously, an X, a Y and a Z? Which one does the mechanic apply to?”
b) This sentence is unclear. Either chop off the beginning or make the ending refer back to the person in question. 

Throughout the revision/editorial process there’s a back-and-forth established. I say something, you respond; you say something I respond. Ideally this back-and-forth treats us both like adults and colleagues working together, and it should never devolve into name calling, passive aggressive pissing contests or outright arguments.

Why? Because edits are suggestions. Yes, they’re suggestions with good intentions, experience, and expertise behind them, but they’re still suggestions. And we (editors) know that. We hope you take them seriously, since we’re giving them for the benefit of your project, but there are going to be times when we disagree.

So what can you do to make the process of editing less about our disagreements and more about getting things done and accomplished? Here are a few tips:

i. It’s not about you! When I edit something, even something one of my friends wrote, if I edit it, nothing in their personal life comes into play. Not who they’re married to, what they’re doing Tuesday for dinner, not what they said to me on Twitter this morning…it’s all about the work. And if I call them out for making an error (or making the same error repeatedly) I trust them to see and realize that it’s not a condemnation of who and what they are, just a bad writing habit I’m trying to excise. An edit in your manuscript is not somehow a mark or slight against you, it’s an edit…in your manuscript.

ii. Be ready to listen to a new point of view. When you hand over your MS for editing, be prepared for me to come at it with new eyes. I wasn’t in the room when you wrote it, I likely didn’t have any input on its genesis or growth. It’s also possible that outside of this particular project, you and I have never spoken, so I may not fully grasp the nuances of your humor or dig your taste in metaphors. I’m going to go through your work as a totally new reader and editor, so that may mean I don’t get your joke, or understand your explanation the first, second or fifth times. If you’re not ready to have someone potentially mark up, flag and question your work, understand that you may need to talk to the editor before you submit to the process.

iii. Editing is NOT reading!The editing process is so much more than spellcheck-ing a document, reading it, and pronouncing it “nice” or “good”. It’s also not pleasure reading. In fact, I’m not really “reading” your work at it. The process is finer than that. I’m looking for errors, I’m searching for clarity in concept and execution, I’m often looking at the relationship from word to word — that’s of a higher scope and detail than just reading the MS to see if I like it.

iv. Don’t lose your temper! Sometimes, it can feel like you’re under siege while getting edited. Your hard work, your words, your creation is under a sharp knife wielded by someone who “doesn’t get it”. It can be frustrating to get back ten, twenty or thirty pages of marked up draft and feel overwhelmed and indignant that someone found so much fault with what you’ve done. Remember though, it’s not personal (i) and what we’re having is a conversation, not a lecture. If you’re able to rein in your frustrations and express your side of the discussion civilly then the writer-editor relationship will prosper. If you’re frustrated, confused, annoyed, bothered….speak up. It might be momentarily uncomfortable, but in the end it will be worth it. Just do so civilly.

I think four items is a good start. If any of my editor friends want to jump in: What can writers do to make the process easier? Leave a comment or two.

Happy writing. We’ll talk soon.

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