Tag Archive for editing

Before the Edit

by Virginia Herrick                                         

For authors, editing pays. It pays in getting your message across, in the capacity to capture your readers’ attention, and in efficiency, time, and money. An unedited manuscript is generally something only a mother could love. And, yep, in this case you, Author Dearest, are “Mom.”

So … what is editing? Many writers when they first approach an editor may not be certain about what kind of help they need. Editing is not a monolithic unit of work, like attaching widgets on an assembly line. Write … edit … cover art … SPROING! Out comes a book! Uh … no.

In fact, about the only time you aren’t editing is that first flush of creative outpouring (or jaw-clenching determination, if the muse does not smile). After that, you’re editing. The first edits, of course, are the author’s own. Otherwise known as the “second (or third, or fourth, or …) draft.”

Dos and Don’ts of writing the first draft of your novel

Do … keep writing. Crafting and re-crafting that gorgeous first chapter is well worthwhile … after you’ve finished the first draft of your book.

Don’t … wordsmith a lot. Later, you can fix your grammar and punctuation, or ponder just the right simile. For now, get the story down.

Do … spend time getting to know your characters, even if it means writing something you know doesn’t belong in the book.

Don’t … agonize over that scene that just isn’t working. Skip it. Make a note to yourself about the plot points that need to be accomplished and move on.

In nonfiction, with obvious exceptions, the same applies. Make your outline, sure. But relax if you need to write things as you get the information and interviews, and organize later.

Now, say you’ve finished that first draft … and it’s full of pedestrian writing, disjointed storytelling, head-hopping and stream-of-consciousness reflections on irrelevant background material … Celebrate! A first draft is a massive achievement!

And … welcome to editing. Read over your manuscript, noting problem areas and tweaking language as you go. Fix everything you possibly can before you look for an editor. The better your manuscript, the less expensive the professional edit! Fix that scene you skipped, make sure your character’s motivations and development are coherent, and polish, polish, polish the dialogue. For nonfiction authors, the focus will be organizing your material, improving your narrative voice, and making sure you have all the information you need, no more, and in the right order!

Next step is a beta read. The more volunteers you have, the better. This is the place for your mom, your best friend, that guy down the street who will read anything as long as it’s (Fill In Your Genre Here), members of your writers group who owe you favors, etc. Take their responses, fix the ones that make your book better, ignore the rest, and repeat as needed. NOW you’re ready for The Editor!


vhAbout Virginia

Virginia has been making up stories for fun since she was a skinny, shy kid with straight hair down to her waist. She’s now less shy, less skinny, and has shorter hair. However, she still loves fantasy novels, other novels, other books, the beach, the woods, animals, birds of prey, and thinking, writing, and talking about how to make the world better.

Most of her waking hours, Virginia is reading and writing: emails, blog posts, news, social media, magazine articles, book reviews, and – oh, yeah! – stories! Often when she’s reading and writing, she has a dog at her feet and a cat cruising back and forth between her and her monitor and/or book. This is not convenient. It is not efficient. But it is the way she rolls.

She has been a babysitter, secretary, hair stylist, pet groomer, lobbyist, newspaper reporter, and newspaper editor. Now she edits and reviews books and short stories, and writes poems, short stories and as-yet-unpublished novels. (Stay tuned!) Several years ago, Virginia fostered more than fifty cats and kittens over a period of three summers and is very proud that she only kept one! Her two mostly-grown kids help around the house without being asked. It’s weird.

A member of the Bellingham Friends (Quaker) Meeting in Washington state, Virginia lives with her sometime-sailor husband, Mark, cats named Sinbad and Mercury, and a miniature schnauzer named Espy. She would foster more kittens, but Mercury says no. Sinbad and Espy would totally be cool with it.

In praise of editors

My first creative non-fiction article tortured me during the middle drafts, as though I was in a river too frothy to comprehend from the seat low in my canoe. I was always scraping into one rock or another. I like a bit of whitewater as much as the next paddler, but my desire in taking up serious writing, the desire to bring readers something rewarding, was in danger of being swamped by struggle and overwork. If I didn’t change something, I might quit.

A few years ago, I didn’t think of myself as a creative writer, nor a storyteller, for that matter. I was an amateur essayist, which I thought was a whole different animal. Yet I knew the power of story and wanted to harness that power in my writing. I thought it would be easy enough to write out two stories of real events, stories that friends had said were good ones.

When I wrote them out, yes, they were good stories, but I was tripping over myself in various ways. And, to me, they had to have a point, which always seemed clearer in my head than when it arrived on the page. And my really big bugaboo was finding an order, a structure, that would engage the reader fully. While my friends may be sincerely fascinated by an animated account over a pitcher of beer, a different thing altogether was telling my story to strangers, clearly not a captive audience. Especially because with the words committed to the page, and my readers at some remove, I can’t see reactions on their faces and adjust what I say accordingly. Doesn’t the chief problem always come down to how to show readers that our stories are going somewhere that they’ll enjoy following us to?

I was going to need help. Help beyond taking a creative writing class here and there. Those were good, and encouraging, as I began to see the science—the methods—in the writing arts. Though I was also skeptical—I didn’t want to tart up a true story, or let filigree weigh it down. And the big question, which structure to use when, baffled me. I needed a river guide to avoid the brushy “sweeper” trees lying across my stream, not to mention the dreaded drop holes.

Then one day, my mother offered to pay me to sell the cemetery plots she’d inherited and didn’t want. My writing fund was born.

So, starting with the first piece that I wanted to see published, and after struggling awhile, I sought out a developmental review from an experienced editor. To me, an editor is a professional reader who has a bead on other readers’ needs, wants, reactions. And knows what to do about these things. With help, the obstacles could be navigated, the chosen eddies could be playful asides, or crucial explication, and I could smoothly return to the main channel with my readers still with me. With each draft I could get much closer to an intimate conversation with my readers that I hoped for.

I found very fine and insightful editors right here in our local writing community. I needn’t have worried about decorative flourishes, because my editors haven’t pushed me in that direction. They have pushed me to work hard, but have guided that work insightfully. I suspect I will always have some blindness about structure. Now I don’t let that bother me. It’s great to get comments back and feel, Yes! That’s right, that’s what I’m trying to say. Editors, thank you!

Author Bio:

Jean Waight sqJean Waight is an essayist and memoirist who formerly worked in communications for Group Health Cooperative. Her first person account of the twists and turns in a snow rescue, “Through the Floor,” appeared in Cirque: A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim, winter 2015. The Bellingham Herald published her beach clean-up essay. Her blog of life among the trees in Bellingham, full of shady opinions, is at greenteasympathy.blogspot.com.