Sunday, January 23, 2011

Editing - My Ideas and Theirs - Part 1

On my Facebook author's page last week I mentioned I would be editing my galleys for my next Shaker book this weekend. Someone asked me what exactly that meant. What did I have to do when I edited a book. So I told her I'd post a blog about editing.

Of course we all know about editing our work, our letters, our e-mails, our posts or tweets. Sometimes I don't edit those posts so well and typos sneak through. I hate typos and spelling words wrong. Don't mind it when somebody else does it. Just when I do. But nobody's perfect. And that's what I have to remember when I get the editing suggestions back from my editors. I may think I have it perfect or as near perfect as I can get it, but fresh eyes see new imperfections. To be truthful, I see imperfections every time I read over one of my manuscripts. If I had to wait until I had it where none of those imperfections popped up, I'd never be finished with a story.

So the initial editing is my idea, what I do before I submit the manuscript to an editor. I write the story and then spend a lot of hours going over the story to make sure I've written it the way I wanted and that I've used the best words and haven't repeated everything a dozen times. I make sure names stay the same all the way through the book and eye colors too. I cut out everything that seems to slow down the scene and that is not absolutely necessary. Sometimes I work on a sentence for a long time, rewriting and rewriting it to make it sound right and then realize it doesn't need to be there at all. Delete key time. I can look at that as wasted time or I can look at that as practicing my editing skills and honing my editor's eye.

I don't mind doing this kind of editing. I like it in fact. I like polishing a finished story. I want it to shine the best it can. I don't mind working it over a dozen times or however many times it takes. I want to submit a clean manuscript. That is, one without those typos and repetitive words and other things that might yank a reader out of the story. Because to me that's one of the purposes of smooth writing. To make the words disappear and the story come to life in the readers' mind.

So I scrub and polish my words and sentences. Then I send it off to the editor. My editor reads my story and perhaps spots some holes or places she thinks could be better written or explained. She sends back a letter suggesting changes to improve the story. This can be major rewrite time for an author. It can also be a difficult time for the writer. For me. Because I love my story. I love the words I've chosen to make my scenes come to life. And now here's someone saying maybe I didn't do it right. I've found it's best to read over the suggestions and stew about them for a while. At this point, it's never a good idea to call your editor or e-mail her either. It's better to wait. To let her suggestions absorb into the editing corner of your brain until you realize that she's got a point. This or that scene could be better. That section was overwritten, underwritten, left murky, made too clear. This or that character could come to life better with a bit more work. A good editor is the best kind of friend to a writer - the kind who will tell you when you've got mustard on your face or you forgot to take the tag off your new jeans. Mine will tell me where my story isn't right and give me a chance to fix it.

Okay so I've worked through the first editors suggestions and changed some things and perhaps argued for some other things that got to stay the same. I don't do that often and when I do I try to go back and write something somewhere that will make the scene better even while staying almost the same. My acquiring editor is satisfied. The book is put on the schedule for whatever month to be released. That's usually at least a year away.

Then the book goes to a copy-editor. This editor reads through the book slowly looking for every kind of stumble and lack. She makes sure words are spelled correctly and that in a historical novel like mine I haven't used an expression that wasn't in common use. She helps to make sure the years and ages match up correctly. She makes sure the names are right all the way through. She tells me when the transitions are murky. She sticks in commas that I always want to take out. She notes run on sentences for me to rewrite. (It's a good thing this journal doesn't have a copy editor.) She notes if I have a favorite word that I've over used.

I always have a favorite word. This time, believe it or not, it's mashed. Usually it's still. I love to do transition with still. I'm also very fond of just. But I've begun to notice those more in my first edits so now a new word generally pops up to give me fits. Every time. They must do computer searches. That's what I have to do to try to fix the problem. Especially with still. I don't even see that word most of the time when I'm reading over my work.

This is becoming a run on post. My editor wouldn't be happy. So I'm going to do Editing part 2 on Wednesday. If you've got questions, leave a comment and I'll try to come up with an answer maybe without being mashed down with still and just. Still, I just don't know. I'm hoping my inner editor can take over this week and get these galleys done so I can get back to struggling with Shaker book 5. But then nobody promised me writing would be easy, but easy or hard it's all I've ever wanted to do.

Talk to you Wednesday, and I'd love to hear what you think about editing.


  1. Your blog post came at just the right time, Ann! I'm in the polishing/synopsis stage for my first requested manuscript. When I had a friend read it, she found some "pet" words, too. The one she found was "looked." Then the more I worked on it, I found out that I have a latent love affair with the word "then." I guess that corresponds to your use of "still." Sigh. Looking forward to your next post. Pray I get on a roll getting this sent in!

  2. Regina, that first requested manuscript is one you really want to polish, but at the same time don't work it over until you rub all the shine off it. The thing to remember is that while great writing is good - well, I guess it's great - but it's the story that really sells an editor. So good luck and prayers that you will see your problems and even better see a way to fix them.

  3. Hi Ann. I enjoyed reading your blog. Like Regina, I am in the polishing/synopsis stage too. It seems the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know much.

    I'm truly enjoying my writing journey though. It has been a true blessing.

  4. Don't we all have pet words. Mine is really. I've had a hard time knocking it out of my ms. I do that a lot, but I'm doing better with it, really.
    This was a wonderful article. I sent my first proposal to an agent and I'm on pens and needles right now. I hope the agent loves it.

  5. I appreciate you taking time to read my post, Teresa. I've been writing for years and years and one thing I know for sure is that there will always be something new to figure out. And always something to try to do better. I too consider my desire to write a blessing. May your journey bring you joy in your writing and life.

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  7. Kathy, thanks for chiming in and admitting to your pet word. Really is one I like too. And I'm good with Regina's too - then. But those I see better while I'm editing and can usually get them taken care of. It's the sneaky ones that give me trouble. Thank goodness for careful editors whose eyes see more than mine.

    I hope your agent loves your proposal too. Keep us up to date on the loop.

  8. Thank you for this post! Its always so interesting to read how stories go from in an author's head to on a book shelf. I personally worked in journalism, and while we did do editing (I was even an editor!) the fast pace of the story writing and publishing sometimes led to goofs that then thousands of people got to read and be snarky about ;) so I"m a big fan of the slow edit and taking your time, lol. Cant wait to see what you add!

  9. Thanks for chiming in, Heather. Deadlines can make for missed corrections - even in novel writing. I too like to have time to do slow edits, but that's not always possible with everything we have to do these days. And keep putting out new work too. Sometimes even with careful edits, mistakes sneak through. They did in my last book, The Seeker. Not my fault, but still very discouraging. Edits 2 coming up. Wait till you see the picture.


Thanks for joining the conversation. I like hearing what you have to say. Thanks for dropping by.