Revision and Editing: Every Editor Matters

Steenbeck film editing machine
Steenbeck film editing machine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A short one today.

In continuing a bit from an earlier post, I’d like to talk not about one’s blog readers and how much they matter (hint: a lot), but rather about the people who read our work — the editors, the beta readers, the friends and family who take time out of their day to read our work and suggest revision.

A while back, I got a rather sadmaking comment from one of my blog readers, Colin Kerr:

I don’t write, but my more creative, productive friends do, and they often send a draft to get a reaction. I always say I’ll help, because what kind of ass doesn’t help a friend with a book? But then, after giving notes, they say, β€œYes, but Michael said exactly the opposite.” Michael tells me he hears much the same.

Writers and editors alike act like they’re put out by the process. I don’t know what to make of it. If you ask a dozen people to edit a manuscript, of course they’ll give you a dozen different kinds of advice. It’s not physics. Do writers want a dozen opinions to chose from, and if not, why send out so many manuscripts?

My friends have not been published, and I have never edited a book which was subsequently published. Most of us fight with computers for our salary.

Maybe my input is not worth hearing. I try not to be cross, but editing takes time and effort, and it’s taxing to be dismissed. Just as writers agonize over giving away or charging for sample work, I think about charging a fee for editing just to see whether people take me, and editing, more seriously.

As writers, most of us have volunteer editors who help us with our work. Revision is a crucial step in the writing process, and central to creating good fiction. Another set of eyes can prove invaluable in fine-tuning that revision. But writers also tend to be prickly when it comes to editing and suggestions. I’ve been on both sides of that argument — I’ve argued with writers who took issue with my every revision, and I’ve argued with editors and readers who dared to question my holy writing process! Who the hell asked them in the first place… oh wait, I did.

Editing is hard. Revision is hard. No one’s saying it isn’t. It’s one of the most grueling steps in the writing process. But that doesn’t give us license to take it out on the people who volunteer their time and energy to helping us create better work. Listen to your readers and your editors. Weigh their words carefully, even when they hurt. Take them seriously, even when they contradict each other. And most of all, say thank you.

And on that note, I’d like to personally say thank you to Anna Meade, Angela Goff, Lillie McFerrin, Tracy McCusker, Aaron Engler, and Ruth Long for their time and effort. You guys rock.

 

 

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  • Unfortunately sometimes writers ask for beta readers while hoping (and sometimes assuming) all of the responses will be along the lines of THIS IS AMAZING, YOU SHOULD GET PUBLISHED.

    What they often don’t realize is it doesn’t matter how fantastic your WIP is, there’s always room for improvement, and anyone who gives you this is fantabulous don’t change anything feedback isn’t really giving you helpful feedback (for your WIP, anyway. It helps your ego, I suppose).

    Finding a critique partner who is honest and willing to tear your work apart is a Godsend. Really. When you find someone willing and able to tell you “yes, you’re on the right track, but you need to fix x and cut x and add x and rewrite x” you better hold on to that person like your life depends on it, because they are an invaluable asset.

    • Totally. Sometimes I feel the worst piece of criticism I could possibly get is “I liked it.” Well, great — but it doesn’t really help me improve, or point out any problems, or show engagement. Very much agreed, Ava.

      • “I liked it” isn’t a critique (or criticism) at all. If that’s all you have to say, you might as well not have read the WIP in the first place. Unfortunately, not everyone realizes that…

  • This is such an important point! The funny thing about the writing process–and I can’t put enough emphasis on the word process–is that there are steps involved to getting to the point where we are ready to write a publishable work, go through the process of publication, and prepare ourselves for what happens when the book is out in the world.

    Part of the process is learning to disassociate from the work well enough to be able to understand that everyone who reads it is going to be bringing their own set of biases and experiences with them. We are only the writers. We create PART of the experience for a reader. But only part. Our job as writers is to tell our story clearly enough that it has integrity regardless of the reader’s baggage, and further, to leave room enough for the reader’s baggage to enhance the book instead of taking away from it. How do we do that if we don’t solicit a lot of opinions before the book goes out into the world.

    Face it, we are going to get opinions one way or the other. We can catch ambiguities and inconsistencies before people pay good money to buy our work, or we can let them catch the plot holes and pacing issues after they’ve paid, and end up getting bad reviews that will keep others from buying the book or future books.

    Fiction is art. There is no right or wrong. But there is a canvas we have to paint on, and we have to make sure that when readers look at that canvas, they see what we want them to see. That means we have to look at it ourselves from as many different perspectives as possible.

    Thanks so much for this post! It’s a great reminder for every writer.

    Best,

    Martina

    • Thank you for the great comment, Martina! I think you’re dead-on about the author’s role in the reading experience — it counts for a great deal, but it most certainly doesn’t count for everything.

  • Once again – a spot-on post. I feel this one more keenly just now, since I have recently amped up my writing/editing efforts, including the beta-reader stage (which, by the way, thank YOU for putting up with my work!).

    Recent beta-reading feedback has made me rethink how many beta-readers I enlist at one time, and who they are. I am blessed to have such a roster of writing friends who will give my manuscript the time and attention it needs, but I’ve also learned from experience (and the experiences of others) that farming your work out to too many people at once can actually be detrimental to the overall improvement of the work.

    PS I’m ready to beta-read anything you send me. Just sayin’. πŸ˜€

    • It’s my pleasure, Angela. And I agree that it’s important to stay focused and try to find one or two beta readers who are perceptive and tough enough to keep our work on track.

  • Colin Kerr

    My, that’s flattering, and perhaps a little humbling. I shall have to be careful what I say, and not just because the petty tyrants at work–and I mean “petty tyrant” in the nicest possible way–will google to see if I’m violating my NDA.

    Lately, I’ve been more aware of the power words have to inspire and influence. It’s wonderful to follow conversations back and forth across the spectrum of independent writing blogs; the word “community” is tossed around lightly in social media discussions, but here, it applies, and it motivates. Sharing ideas is a precious human ability. It is awe-inspiring to think what ripples we can create through the world by honestly, unself-consciously speaking our minds, in writing, editing, blogging, chatting on the phone, or complimenting a stranger’s earrings.

    • Great comment, Colin. There’s a piece of philosophy in the Jewish Kabbalah that’s always appealed to me about the power of words — once something is said and heard, it can’t be taken back or undone. I think you’re right on the mark in that sharing ideas is one of the great gifts of the Internet, and we should use it wisely.