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Chris Stevenson

The Psychology of Editing

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First and foremost, I am no editor. Iím only an author with some thoughts about this subject. I donít think an author on this planet can edit themselves, with the exception of Anne Rice!
Nancy of Melange Books suggested I might share some prep advice when it comes to writing and editing. Particularly editing. Weíre all going to go through these stages with our Melange books, and it is inevitable. As authors, weíll always need new eyesóa fresh outlook from another perspective. I shouldnít remind you that these views and changes that come from your editor are not personal opinions from an editor. Editors are stand-ins for readersóreaders are the well-spring from which you flow. So take in mind that any editor who flags a problem is seeing these speed bumps or errors in place of the reader, and is removing the ďbadĒ or ďquestionableĒ before the reader even sees it. Problem solved, you end up with a smooth, uninterrupted transition through your text. Thatís a very positive thing. Every little nuance that is pointed out and corrected makes the story, better and better and better. Itís teamwork, and the goal is to make it shine.

Do you have a choice word or paragraph that you just canít let loose of? Do you believe itís intrusive to remove it? Iíll bet your editor knows that itís going to throw the majority of readers off because it is too exotic, misplaced or not really needed. She knows that passage will confuse the majority of readers by leaving that kink in there. You want wide and easily comprehensive writing. You canít afford to lose your customerís interest or let them pause. Editors know that part of it and it deals with pace. ďCouldnít put it downĒ means thereís a lack of speed bumps.

Tip 1: (Got ahead of myself there). Prep. Prep first means health. Strive to be in the best physical condition you can before you write or handle any editing. Get that flu on the run, ease that backache, take your choice of meds for that migraine and generally strive to be as wide awake and rested as you can. Eat rightóyou have a stint in front of you. Me, I have to take dozens of pills a day, drag my oxygen tube around with me and get in some walking laps inside the house. Iíll avoid any of the stronger medicines, and I wonít drink or smoke at the computer or at any time. Iím damn lucky to live from one breath to the next.

Tip 2: If youíre just about ready for your first edit pass, youíll be told this by your assigned editor. Do you feel the drudgery coming on? Hereís a nice little psyche move thatís good for you and your editor. If you think your book is finally ready to hit the editorís desk, do a real fast run-through the text. Your editor will click their heels and oblige the request. This might take you four or five days, depending. Trust me, youíll find things you missed. You always do. No reason for major rewrites, just a solid, precise read through. This helps in two ways: it will bring back great memories of where you were when you started this tome, which you wrote with white hot inspiration. Right? Remember that masterpiece? Nothing has really changed. You were thrilled to the gills when you wrote your first draft of it. Youíre reliving that state of awe and exhilaration and, even laughing and crying over some of those memorable scenes. Secondly, you are recapturing your momentum. Youíre remembering every beat and the natural rhythm of the story, the action sequences, pauses, breathers and crucial dialogue passages. Your characterís names, ages, vocations, motivation and physical characteristics will click right back into place. Youíre not going in half-blind. In addition, this takes some extra time off of your editorís workload, which is a relief and speeds up the process.

Tip 3: Remain steady on your editing pass, progressing at a good pace. When you find yourself enjoying your story too much and glossing over the words, remember to slow down and get back in critical mode. Slow down enough to catch those missed commas, hyphens, quotation marks and periods. Donít jump ahead and anticipate what you thought you wrote--double check it and find out what is actually printed. You might have revised something way back there and forgotten about it. Keep continuity in the back of your mindóyour characters donít change skin, hair or eye color every other chapter. They donít take off in a Chevy and later burn rubber in a Ford.

Tip 4: Iím not an editor but I sure can see POV swaps in just about every book I read. If you have a multiple view point story, separate the scenes with a chapter or transition break. A transition is this little indicator like this: # # # between paragraphs. Your publisher will insert those symbols in their own house style, in case you already know them.

Tip 5: A little metaphor and simile never hurt a writer. Observe the passive and telling in the next phrase:

He was clumsy. He wasnít experienced. He looked like an amateur runner.

Now, a bit longer but showing with some voice:

His stride was crazy-legged; he ran as much sideways as forward. She nearly laughed out loud but thought better of it. Instead, she felt somewhat sorry for him. It might have been his first jogging experience. Diane was no stranger to barbs or insults. Even with a slung gut and knocked knees, wasnít Seabiscuit hard on the eyes but chock-full of speed and heart?

Tip 6: Are you seeing a lot of red lines tagged in your manuscript? So much that you think itís overwhelming? Donít despair, take one at a time and youíll breeze right through them. Remember, you are forging ahead and leaving all the bad behind. Ití all uphill from the very beginning now. You wonít be going back.

Tip 7. Learn to stop editing. Quit. Thatís enough. Donít insist on, or try to sneak in, structural editing when youíre in final proofs. Itís going to be just fine. Itís true that you can edit a book until itís worthless. If you are in the middle of a grammar or syntax pass, stay on that trackófocus on that. If something flies out at you that needs attention, make a note of it to later share with the editor.

Donít argue with an editor. Donít insist. Compromise. She is the pilot and captain for now. You are passenger with the seat belt fastened and tray in the upright. Sheíll know when itís time to land.

Thanks, Chris red-shifting outta here

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  1. bdcharles's Avatar
    For me, when I edit other peoples' novels I primarily try and get a feel for the voice they want to have, the way they imagine the book to sound. Sometimes I will let a grammar slip stay, if by including it the text would acquire a bit too much repetition or some other flow weirdness in that area. And I do approach it from a readers' perspective too, absolutely. I do find that writers have certain crutches they lean on, whether it is a word or a writing type. For eg., the guy I am currently working with tends to rely on loads and loads of unassigned dialogue, so I have to piece together who's saying what, and also give it a bit more externality, less talking-headsiness. But generally the people I edit for are happy; they seem to accept the changes and like them, and if they push back, which isn't really all that often, I usually let them keep the bits they want if the agitate enough. It is definitely a group effort.
  2. Pulse's Avatar
    I may be idiosyncratic, buit every time I read through the text, I imagine I am a reader, seeing it for the first time because most readers will be.

    On the first edit, it is worthwhile pointing out where the story is not in sequential order. Many writers want to use flashbacks or even flashforwards; but it helps if the writer and editor can agree a way through these issues so they are both on an agreed wavelength.

    A lot of the editorial work I do is for writers whose original manuscript was in a different language, so we often resort to metaphor when the precise translation sounds awkward or does not express the image.

    The most important thing for me is to clear my head of prior versions of the text and read it afresh.
  3. Chris Stevenson's Avatar
    Very thoughtful comments from the both of you. It is so very hard for me to see my words as a reader and I know this must be done. I will occasionally slip into that distant-sight mode and actually catch just about everything. Most often not. I think editors have that natural born or developed sense to spot something, however minuscule and out of place, very rapidly and without difficulty. I can't tell you how many times I've gone over the same manuscript with multiple passes only to continually find more errors.

    The foreword in my newest released book had 13 blatant errors in it that both I and the editor missed. I had to do a fast triage on it, and then get it replaced with the printed version on Amazon. Neither I or my editor were aware that it went to print in such a fashion. Blessed be the editors.

    BTW, after 30 years in trade publishing, I have just now learned to let the damn manuscript sit for a good length of time before diving back into it. This has Always been my biggest mistake. I'm practicing restraint and patience now.
  4. bdcharles's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Pulse
    I may be idiosyncratic, buit every time I read through the text, I imagine I am a reader, seeing it for the first time because most readers will be.

    On the first edit, it is worthwhile pointing out where the story is not in sequential order. Many writers want to use flashbacks or even flashforwards; but it helps if the writer and editor can agree a way through these issues so they are both on an agreed wavelength.

    A lot of the editorial work I do is for writers whose original manuscript was in a different language, so we often resort to metaphor when the precise translation sounds awkward or does not express the image.

    The most important thing for me is to clear my head of prior versions of the text and read it afresh.
    When short of time, I try all sorts of ways to acquire fresh perspective: ranging from closing one eye, not using my glasses, or having a couple of glasses of wine beforehand, to doing something totally random just before I get started, like crawling under my desk and lying there for a minute, thinking about my MS (or the point in it I am reviewing).

    Honestly, I would gladly stop doing it in a heartbeat - if only it didn't work.
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