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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Proper Editing Attitude


I just completed a grueling edit cycle with my new novel, The Training Bra. My editor (Solstice Publishing / Cheryl Nicholas) is very good at what she does. I know that in my heart, but I still catch myself thinking “she just can’t be right” when, in fact, she almost always is and it’s my novel that needs an adjustment.

I tend to write in first person, which can be confusing if there are more than one or two characters. As my editor and I struggled through the first ten chapters, she seemed confused about POV – which character was doing the talking – even though I almost always begin a new chapter when there is a POV change and I try to identify the specific character in the first paragraph of each chapter. At first I had trouble understanding her confusion – why didn’t she get it? I read the material again and wasn’t the slightest bit confused.

In frustration, I re-wrote the entire first ten chapters to try to clarify the POV, although I really didn’t understand why all that work was necessary. Then I had an epiphany. She wasn’t telling me she was confused – she was telling me other readers might be confused. There is a difference. She wasn’t confused at all – she was just telling me the book could be better.

And here’s the good part. I loved the re-write of the first ten chapters. After the re-write, in my opinion, the novel was much better than before. The POV was clearer and the humor sparkled. So, as I approached the remaining 23 chapters, each time I wondered “What is she thinking?” I stopped to change the comment in my mind to, “What can I do to make this passage better?”

In other words, even if it wasn’t exactly clear to me what she wanted (because editor notes can sometimes be cryptic), I knew she was telling me to fix something to make the book better. As a result, I tried to address every in-line change and especially the comments in the margin. She took the time to write those comments, and I didn’t want to leave a single one behind.

I sent the first iteration back to her last week. The novel is far better than before the edit cycle. There is more show vs. tell, and much more humor. The books are comedy; humor is important. I can hardly believe how many opportunities I missed to add more laughs when I went through the story the first ten times.

As I reflect on the experience, I am humbled by my editor's ability to see problems in my writing that I’m not sure, even now, I could have seen myself. I had the same editor for my last book, Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana! I thought she was terrific then, but this time she has been even more instructive. One might think I would start to get it after eight novels and one short story, but no. It’s clear I still have a lot to learn, and the most important lesson is probably this: don’t argue with your editor. If she tells you something should be fixed, don’t question, just do it.

Sigh.

James L. Hatch

14 comments:

Tina Donahue said...

Thank god for editors. I always take my editors' suggestions seriously and carefully. Their insights have made my books that much better.

James L. Hatch said...

I couldn't agree more, Tina. Sometimes it's hard to understand they are working to make our stories better -- and that is a very tough job for some of us. I always think it's appropriate to credit the editor in the Acknowledgements for my books as well.

KC Sprayberry said...

You're absolutely right, James. It's not about if we understand, we must always remember our readers.

KC Sprayberry said...

I agree completely, James. We must always remember our readers.

jean hart stewart said...

I still fight indignantly over some chances, but guess what, she know what's she's doing. HMMM, wonder why I've never had a male editor?

James L. Hatch said...

Hi KC. Thank you for stopping by. I hope some of the new authors read it as well. I'm still learning -- and I should know better. Shame on me. I think I've got it now. No more questioning for me!

Sincerely,
James

James L. Hatch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James L. Hatch said...

Hi Jean. What a pleasure to have you here today. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Male editors? I did have one for one of my Sci-Fi books. He was interested in adding elements to the story, but let me slide on a lot of show vs. tell and grammar. I would much rather have an editor that beats me to death with correctness than one who lets me slip by. Thanks again for your comment.

devonellington said...

Shawna Williams has been my editor for both my Solstice releases (the one out and the upcoming). She catches out the bad habits I'm too close to see, and I can really TALK to her -- I trust her, and she always makes my work better.

It's always hardest to see your own work objectively. I can edit other writers objectively, and I honor the editors who work so beautifully to do the same for me.

Also, when I first get notes, whether they're from my editor or a Trusted Reader, I read them, then put them away for a day or two, then re-read them with some distance. Then, I'm not just reacting -- I've actually processed and understood the notes on a much deeper level.

Fiona McGier said...

I was once told that I'm a good writer in need of a good editor. So I've learned to stop reacting as if each suggestion to change is akin to chopping off the digits of one of my children, and instead view them as helpful observations...usually.

James L. Hatch said...

Devon. Thanks for the input. I will follow that advice -- put the comments away to give time to sleep on them. That makes a lot of sense. Thank you for that!

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Fiona. I've never been told I'm a good writer in need of a good editor, but I know my weaknesses. No training in this field doesn't help. Maybe I should have been an English major, but then, I couldn't have designed all that hardware and software. All I can say is that it's a good thing my editor is patient. Bless her heart. She's just fantastic to try to lead me down the path of better writing.

Penny's Tales said...

Great post James.....good editors are like gold. One word or phrase can make a world of difference.

Thanks for sharing

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Penny. Very true. Gold on one side; hard labor on the other. Nothing worthwhile comes without a little sweat. I see the comments here came from fairly experienced people. I hope some new authors tuned in as well. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.