Tag Archives: editing

Crowd Editing, Part Three

I do a lot of editing as well as book and cover design. True confession here—I find editing far more difficult than writing.
TOF with Ruth's edits for web
When I’m writing the first draft of anything—this post, a book, a magazine article, doesn’t matter—I just click right along, my hand(s) and head working as fast as they can so that I don’t miss out on that great phrase that’s whipping across my neurons.

I don’t have to worry about commas, syntax or even spelling (though I do try to do those things correctly) because I know I will revise it later—and probably more than once.

Editing is far, far slower than writing, and requires intense focus because you’re testing every word and every sentence: Does it make sense? Is it in line with the movement of the whole book? How about those details such as spelling, grammar and punctuation?

Editing also takes the dexterity and balance of a tightrope walker. Do you rewrite a sentence that you know is awkward? Sure, if it’s a single sentence.

But what about a paragraph? A chapter? Heck, a whole book? (I’ve done that and it’s tedious work, take my word for it.)

Like every other skill, managing the rewrite issue (what writers like to call “changing my words”) is always a tough call because the inclination to “just fix it” is strong. For new editors, that impulse is all but irresistible.

When I hand my work off to an editor, my instructions are simple: Do not let me go out there and make a fool out of myself in public. In other words, tell me if something doesn’t work, if my plot has fallen apart, if a character doesn’t ring true. Correct my grammar, correct my spelling.

I care deeply about my readers. I know that I get only one chance to impress them with my work. If I disrespect them with a badly done book, they will never come back to visit me again.

Now I’ve been hanging out in the writers cafe for a long time now, and at this point in my career, I know that I write well. So what I need from an editor is a pointing finger—this doesn’t work, this does. I can fix it if you point it out to me. I don’t need or want someone to rewrite my paragraphs or chapters. But if you’re my editor and you’ve got a better idea how to craft a sentence, please show me.

Like I said, fine line.

From what I see on websites dedicated to this newish “crowd editing” phenomenon, that line is being crossed regularly by inexperienced (or wannabe) editors, and it is resented by inexperienced (wannabe) writers.

And the whole experience devolves into an ego clash with resentment on both sides.

So would I recommend this path to publishing?

No.

No way.

You do get what you pay for.

Crowd Editing, Part Two

In the midst of receiving lots of great feedback as well as corrections from the advance readers of Thieves of Fire readers, a writer friend and fellow editor, Kris Lewis, sent me an email with a link to a website that purported to offer free “crowd editing” assistance.
TOF with Ruth's edits for web
He was skeptical about it and I have to admit, so was I. When I checked out the website, I discovered my doubts were justified. It seems that the folks who volunteer to do the free “editing” are upset about the negative pushback they get from their victims, er, writers.

This is so not surprising, so not surprising at all. If there’s one thing I can tell you about newbie writers, it’s this: They are TERRIFIED of being edited. They take every comment and correction personally, very personally, so the pushback  on this free “editorial service” is to be expected.

If you are going to be a professional writer, you either grow a thick skin or die as a one-book wonder. I know that from personal experience because I’ve lived that arc.

I was determined not to be a one-book wonder but I still curled up in a fetal position when I was first edited. It took time but I eventually learned to differentiate between good editing and bad. (More on that at another time.)

I also learned to cherish those editors who, just by the way they cared about language, took the time to teach me how to be a better writer.

Nowadays, I welcome good editing with open arms because I know that it makes my work stronger. It is the most glorious kind of collaboration.

My point here is this, it takes a writer time and persistence to understand that editing is an essential part of publishing, perhaps THE essential part of the publishing process.

You have to force yourself to move beyond your sensitivities, and to understand that when you are done writing a book or article or play or poem, the writing no longer belongs to you. It belongs to your readers, the second half of the writing equation.

Your editor is your first reader, the one human being who will end up knowing your work as intimately as you do. In my opinion, that’s a powerful relationship.

When Kris sent me his email about crowd editing, he asked what I thought. My reaction was twofold—that the efficacy of “crowd editing” was entirely dependent on the maturity and experience of the writer as well as the quality of the author’s work. And given the value of “free,” I doubted that it would work very well.

But there’s editing and then there’s editing. More on that tomorrow.

Heading Down to the Final Edit

This morning, I finished making all of the corrections to Thieves of Fire that were noted by my proofreaders.

Proof copy of Thieves of Fire, the 2nd Carding, Vermont novel
Proof copy of Thieves of Fire, the 2nd Carding, Vermont novel

This part always makes me a bit nervous because it’s so easy to introduce another error while you’re correcting.

So I go slowly and carefully.

Now comes the fun (to me) part—formatting the interior of the book.

When this is finished, Thieves of Fire will have reached the stage known as “first pages.” In other words, it’s the first time Thieves will assume the shape it will have when it’s finally printed on paper and bound in a cover.

So what’s this final edit all about? I read the entire manuscript aloud, one chapter at a time, as I paste them into InDesign. Once that’s done, I have to let it go.

I think of this last read-aloud as the final smoothing of the words on the page. It’s where I chuck the unnecessary verbiage, making my sentences as lean and readable as I know how.

Readable is the key word here because editing is all about the reader. So is text formatting and cover creation.

All about the reader, first, last and everything in between.

Once this is done, the cover will be finished and it’s off to the printer we go. As soon as I do that (after a few moments of whooping and cheering), I’ll move onto to finishing my next books and continue on the Carding short story series.

Organization Is More Than Half a Book

Thieves of Fire, the second novel about Carding, Vermont, just got back from an initial reading by my editor.
Index cards for TOF 2 for web
I knew it needed more work but I wanted to bounce it off of someone else to get another perspective on my choice of voice for the additional writing before I plunged in.

The feedback was good and the insights very helpful.

But along with the additional writing comes some additional organization. Or reorganization, to be specific in this case.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to edit the work of a number of writers at all levels of experience. It’s always a challenge to walk the fine line between pushing for one’s personal standard of excellence and an author’s personal needs.

I’m talking about writing style here.

Walking this line is a lot like trying to figure out how hard you need to weed a garden. I have a friend who’s a zealot on weed control and will spend hours digging out every root cell of creeping Charlie or crabgrass. I don’t profess any particular love of weeds but part of me knows that no matter how zealous I go after them, they’ll be back.

So a little live-and-let-live is not out of order in my garden or in the books I edit.

But to me, the one place where you have to strive as hard as you can for perfection in a book is its internal organization. All of us know the sensation of letting our eyes glaze over during the gush of an ill-prepared speaker. The same is true of a disorganized book.

Cover for Thieves of Fire
Cover for Thieves of Fire

Strangely enough, this is the hardest lesson to teach a new writer, and part of me has come to believe that one either has an internal sense of organization or does not. I mean, how does one teach a memoir writer how to put their life in chronological order? Wouldn’t you already know that? (I tried to edit a book like that once. The memory still makes me shake my head.)

This is where the index cards come in. (You were wondering what they were doing in the picture, weren’t you?)

I find these little gems indispensable at this point in editing because I’ve already established my characters and over-arching plot. But it’s keeping track of the fine detail that’s critical at this point.

So for those who have been asking about Thieves of Fire, it’s back on my hard drive for the final run-through, a little later than I wished as far as publication is concerned. But it will be a whole better when I’m done.

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

A corner of my autumn nights quilt pattern

Judith Viorst wrote a children’s book with one of my favorite titles ever: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

I’m having one of those kinds of days.

Right now, the pressure is on to have all in readiness for a squad of volunteers we have coming to raise a building for us, part of our Irene recovery. There’s an excavator digging up my lawn.

The quonset hut, which is usually tucked away under some trees holding my husband’s wood stash, is in the middle of my yard—can’t mow the lawn, hard to get into my gardens (the ones that haven’t been bulldozed), and there’s nothing pretty about a dark gray tarp stretched over a metal skeleton.

The beautiful porch my husband built is being torn off the back of our house because the land it rests on was destabilized by Irene. There are muddy tracks all over the carpet in my makeshift office because folks have been in and out all day.

My file cabinets have been pushed around to make way for a wire that will bring electricity to the building site.

I need to find time to redo this website because I want more out of it.

I’m at that stage in rewriting when I’m grumpy because my first draft is far from perfect. (This is a normal state at this point, and one that I can usually ignore but with everything else…)

And after making four modified house blocks for a quilt to put on the cover of my new novel, The Road Unsalted, I am so not happy with them.

OK, enough grumping.

I do like the quilt top pictured up above. The heck with the house blocks—I’m going to finish this because it does fit the character of The Road Unsalted.

I will get to the website. Watch this space.

You can edit anything to make it better, and a first draft is just that—a first draft.

And then there’s vacuuming. Maybe some ice cream.

Yeah, chocolate chip.