The definition of editing is actually more inclusive than some would make it. Editing can mean proofreading, line editing, or developmental work, editing can be done by the writer himself, a peer, a professional, or even just some friend. Editing can be revising, rewriting, or it may be limited to a few corrections of typos. In fact, the word is so open to interpretation that if you ever find yourself in the position of dealing with an ‘editor’ (being or hiring) you should make certain that you are both on the same page as to what it is they and you are expected to do. Editors tend to give a more thorough and informed opinion on the piece than say beta-readers or critique partners. A beta-reader is mostly just there to point out his reaction as a reader, point out general problems he personally would have with it so the author is better prepared to how people will react, and possibly solve large issues before print. Critique partners vary depending on what you're looking for and have agreed to, but these tend to be friendly associates who you work with outside of a professional setting.
In my opinion, a good external editor is never going to revise or rewrite content themselves; they won’t even ask. You’d have to pay them more to do so, and that would be turning them into a sort of ghostwriter. They will point out errors, make suggestions on fixes, and it is up to the writer to change them. In the case of it being on someone else’s dime—as in traditional publishing—the amount of “allowed” disagreement will change drastically from if you’re hiring a freelancer, but regardless of the situation, a writer should never assume the editor just knows best, just as he shouldn't assume he does either. In most scenarios, there's room for discussion, and many necessary, non-negotiable changes will be discussed when the contract is first signed. Some writers have complete veto power while I've seen others (in bad small presses) have their work completely rewritten for them. Understanding how much creative control you will have is something you should research before signing a country.
A good editor will be open to flexibility of implementation. They will recognize that you may not see eye to eye on everything, and are more likely to clarify the problem rather than instruct you on step-by-step solutions or having their ego damaged when you don't like their suggestions. Both of you are required to behave professionally if you want the relationship to work; it's not just the author who needs to pull his head out of his ass. Regardless of where the funding is coming from, successful editors are respectful of the writer's ideas.
Having outside feedback is important to anyone who wants to be read. You don’t know what you don’t know, many of the mistakes you’re making you’ll never think to question. For instance, at one point, I thought the saying was, “little lone,” as in, “She’s not my mother, little lone my grandmother!” It’s actually ‘let alone’ and I would have never considered the saying might not be what I thought… because why would I?
You’re different than other people, and that’s often a good thing. But it can blurry your point when you don’t see the world in the same way as a reader, and understanding that (and how) other people don’t think like you will help you seize control of your writing and learn how to communicate complex ideas better. Being oblivious to the unique way you see the world might help with being genuine, but you will often find yourself losing credibility and impact due to poor translation. Not to mention you’re also pretty normal in some ways, and I can’t count the number of times a new writer has proudly shown me something that’s “never been done before” which was absolutely cliché simply because they weren’t aware of the world around them.
Self-editing, however, is an equally important part of the process. Despite all of what I said above, I would actually argue that if you, for some hypothetical reason, were forced to choose between the two, you would be better off editing yourself than blindly handing it to another person. Combine the options—third party and self-editing—and you’ll better set yourself up for being interesting and impactful for readers than if you were to just go with one over the other.
Editing has always been haphazard for me. I liked writing and found myself overwhelmed once draft one was done, so I'd often put it off with literally thousands of pages I've never read again. As someone who predominantly writes without too much of a plan, it’s not uncommon for it to be all over the place. Not only does it need to be tightened, but I have to figure out where to tighten it. What’s important? What isn’t? Well that’s all based around my point, and I’m not positive what it is. Strangely enough, sometimes other people are better and putting together what you're trying to say than you are. Some people get you better than you understand yourself.
After deleting nearly a half of a novel in word count, I learned pretty quickly how much nuance influences things. The plot grew tighter, the pacing faster, but the characters and their relationship was changed. Their personalities, their connections. You’d be amazed at how cutting “unnecessary” words will alter the ambiance.
So it can be overwhelming. One decision affects another which affects another, and I don’t even know where I’m trying to get to. This is why I recommend to people to do “mild editing” the first go around, just to familiarize yourself with the story, think about the natural impact it already has so you know how to precisely navigate around choices that helped to create that impact. It also makes it easier to start when you don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself to fix everything immediately.
When I began the submission process of the manuscript I had been loyally working on for four-some years, I began to turn my sights to other projects. The road to publication has been pretty much what I expected, but I’d be lying if I found it easy to keep my morale up. I wasn’t even discouraged, just sort of apathetic.
As my life turned away from the depression and stress, as I moved to a beautiful city, found my apartment, found a job, found a routine, made some friends, and started talking to a guy, I have recently been more inspired to go back to my old ways. I’ve started working on my books again, and have been scheduling my time better. I’ve begun to have time for editing, and with that, I’m about to take up a few old manuscripts back into my arms. Hopefully they’ll have me after I ghosted them so cruelly.
But again, the process is daunting. Which one do I work on? How do I even begin? I haven’t really settled on one singular project in quite some time, and for some reason, the commitment is unnerving, and my impatience is strong.
I’m currently finishing up with a book I’m calling The Former Self about a girl who falls in love with the supernatural clone of a conquering royalty. While there are many parts I’m endeared to, I have some complaints, and I want to push my writing further than what it is now. Too much traveling. Too many talking heads. Is the narration in the beginning alluring towards her personality or too much monologuing?
The world needs to be built up more. Better visuals. More distinct rules of magic. Perhaps more character backstory. Definitely more stakes.
When working on The Dying Breed, the manuscript out for submission, I improved these things in a roundabout way. Most of them came from the constant close reading necessary to cut down on the size, just epiphanies from rereading passages over and over. I’d like to be more systematic about it. This book is probably going to end up being 100,000 words, which could stand from some trimming, but doesn’t need to be in the same way The Dying Breed did.
Meanwhile, the book I finished after The Dying Breed, (tepidly titled The Vicarious Saving of the World) has made a hit with my critique partners in ways that none of my other writing has. The main character is funny, flawed, and facing her pain in a way that immediately spills out from page one.
It too has some of the same problems as above though. Needs more unique world building. More defined rules of magic. Higher highs and lower lows. From my impression now, it actually doesn’t seem to be in too bad of shape though; I’d mostly like to improve the natural progression and pacing towards the end, and might have to add in a subplot, which will bring the word count above where I’d like it.
I care about word count, if you’re wondering, because it is such a large deterrent for agents and publishers and, yes, readers. And even if I were to go into self-publishing, it would be a deterrent for me for the exact same reason: It’s pricier to produce a larger book.
But mostly because I really do tend to be verbose and fluff things out with details that merely slow things down or clutter meaning.
I’d also like to get away from young adult tone of writing I have. The Vicarious Saving of the World falls strictly into that category unlike most of my other works. The Former Self does too, actually. And it’s not as though I have a problem with young adult books normally. I love them. Or I used to. Fans of YA books are devoted as hell. The covers are beautiful, much more so than most of the adult fantasy, and despite the disparaging comments from non-readers, there are some truly wonderful stories and writers that I’ve found.
I just feel limited by it. The glossing of the world building to keep teens interest, the necessity of writing about people of a certain age, being told I can’t use certain words because young people wouldn’t understand them. More so, when reflecting about my “high-highs and low-lows,” or basically any of the failings of atmospheric tension I see in the majority of the young adult books I’ve read recently, I’ve realized that it’s more or less what YA readers DON’T want. Not in the way I’m talking about.
Myself included. I liked happy endings and battles where you know the good guys win. Yet, I also realized that the bad things - truly upsetting things - were the straw that broke the ‘good’ camel’s back and turned it into great. As I get older, the less I feel excited about just a touch of the fingertips between two new lovers and the more I yearn for a touch of the fingertips for the last time.
I can’t say that I would mind being a young adult author. I’m sure I might have suggested otherwise in the past—I’m not completely free from bias, as my blog posts have indicated—but some of the careers I am most envious of are young adult writers, and I do have respect for them.
But if I want to push myself to write the books I’m craving, to be satisfied with my stories, I think I want to get away from the ‘safety’ that is shoved onto young adult and allow myself to explore the more so-called tedious aspects of crafting a grounded world, the distress caused by a disturbing torture, and just create a more intense read than what I’ve been doing. Or what I’ve been reading.
Today I have scheduled an hour to start editing. I had wanted to read Vicarious in one sitting to really remind me what I had created—it having been a few years—but I think that I’ll try to just take an hour for the next week and slowly familiarize myself through it instead of waiting for a fully free day to come around. Procrastination is a bitch.
I’m in Ireland with my family, so I imagine I’m going to struggle getting things done. A change in my routine always messes me up. However, I’ve also found in the last few days how much more time I have if I just stop putting things off and get going. Hopefully I won’t leave it alone until I forget what I have done.
First step is to familiarize myself with it, take notes as to the big picture fixes, correct a few typos and awkward phrasing here or there. Hopefully I’ll finish The Former Self soon and can attempt to edit it the way that I would like to. I’ll read it, put it aside for some time, work on Vicarious and, when I finally get that to some beta-readers (once I’ve started to need some outside perspective), I’ll go back to Former.
I’m continuing to submit The Dying Breed, and am trying to stay invested and positive as I go. But it helps to keep my mind on other things as well, so editing might prove really useful for me.
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