I’m still trying to get caught up on everything I’ve learned in the last few weeks. Today I’d like to talk about a topic I’m struggling with: editing.
Before we start, let’s talk about the need for editing in the first place. Although this seems like it should be self-evident, for new authors like me it’s often not. I knew I’d have to take several passes at my story and touch it up, but I was completely unaware how important editing is. I didn’t know there is a method and structure to it, or that it is way more intense than I envisioned. I figured my manuscript would come out relatively good on the first try.
This the first myth I have overcome. To quote from an earlier blog post of mine:
Maybe the most important point here, and a temporary blow to my ego – everyone (EVERYONE) who writes their first book assumes their story is stellar, their writing without peer. They are a genius and everyone will agree. Their story is fresh and original, and will instantly capture the hearts of readers young and old. No really, we ALL think that. If we aren’t passionate about our story, we wouldn’t be writing it in the first place.
The reason I write is because I think I have something cool to say, and I think I know how to say it. I know what techniques I enjoyed when reading, even if I didn’t know what they were called. I felt my story was an extremely fresh take on some new ideas (giving magic more of a physics feel), and I was completely confident that it would be a hit. This is a good thing – we would not want to write a story that didn’t move us, and if we started out thinking it stunk, well, why would we waste our time writing it?
The key is that 99.99% of the time, especially with new authors, none of these assumptions are true. Your ideas are not original; being a great reader does not instantly make you a great writer; not everyone will love your story; you are not the one in a million exception to the rule; you are not the next J.K. Rowling. Does this mean you shouldn’t write it? NO WAY! You’re a writer – that’s what you do: you write. However if you wish for others to enjoy your reading, you have to come at it in a different way: with your business hat on. This simply means that when you accept these truths, you are allowing yourself to dig in and sculpt your masterpiece, and give it its best chance to be the # 2 bestseller under Harry Potter. (Obviously I’m using an older example here, but you get the point, yes?) You can still succeed, you can still be great, you can still shine. But it will take time, hard work, dedication, and education.
Enter, editing a manuscript.
Manuscript Editing Options
This is an opinion, this is what I feel I’ve learned. Please feel free to refute.
So far in my education process – a whopping 2 weeks in – as I see it I have come up with four options:
- Just write it.
Write your story from your heart, letting it flow the best you can. Do some minor corrections, maybe let your friends review it, then send it off to a publisher or agent. Assume that if it really rocks, it will stick even if it’s rough. After all, Publishers have editors, do they not?
- Write it, let someone else do all the editing
Write your story from your heart, finishing the whole thing. Do some minor-to-moderate corrections. Because you have neither the time nor the inclination, and your time is very valuable, send the entire unpolished manuscript to a heavy editing service. Wash, rinse, repeat until your funds run out or until your manuscript gleams shiny bright.
- Write it, self-edit it until you hurt, send it for freelance editing (or submit)
Write your story. Along the way and after completion, do very intense, heavy self-editing. Take the time required to educate yourself on how to self edit (it’s a skill all its own). Learn or review all the basics you can, get as many tricks as you can. Figure out what applies to you (usually they all do). When you swear you’ll jump off of a bridge if you have to edit that thing one more time, and you would (nearly) stake your life on its perfection, send it to a freelance editor. After one or two rounds, submit. Or, skip the freelance editor part if you are convinced you’ve bled that thing dry.
- Get assistance of a service that holds your hand the whole way
I don’t know much about these, but I gather that you have weekly goals and some level of feedback and editorial assistance. The value of that assistance will increase if you self-edit as much as possible to maximize the feedback you get from them.
The answer that screams for me to pick it is # 3. At least that seems to be the most common consensus from what I’ve read. Everyone’s different, but for the vast majority, # 3 seems as if it is the way to go. If you’re serious about your writing, you’re going to take the time and get the education required to be able to go this path. I get the impression that a huge percentage of published authors big and small go this route, no matter if writing is their full time job or not.
Potential issues with the others:
- Just write it
- You are expecting to be the exception, in a pool of many. Unlikely. Agents, for example, can get on average 250 queries per week, from what I’ve read. Doesn’t sound like much? Keep in mind each agent already has a large list of existing proven authors. Should they take time away from an author they know will sell books, to risk it on a new author who is very unpolished?
- You are giving your prospective agent a clear message: I’m not ready, and I have no idea what it takes to be ready. I have unrealistic expectations and don’t understand the business.
- Although the Publishers do provide editing, time is money; if they have to spend more time on editing your manuscript than is normal, they are losing profit.
- Write it, let someone else do all the editing
- Editors are not in your head, they are not the god of your world, knowing all. No one can edit your story as well as you can, given that you know some writing and editing basics. Editing is about making the story more readable, more enjoyable.
- Agent message: I’m not willing to spend the required time to learn this myself.
- Write it, self-edit
- Seems obvious, yes?
- Services and hand-holding
- I wonder if this is similar to #2. Same messages, same problems. I would almost think there’s a danger of it becoming more the editor’s story than yours. I can’t imagine you learning as much for your next project, however I haven’t done it.
Agents and publishers can tell when your manuscript was heavily edited (by someone else). At least that’s what I’ve read.
Here’s where you more experienced authors are going to cringe: I’m not convinced that a flat # 3 is the way to go for my situation. I started with # 1, but I’m over that. I briefly looked at # 4, and it was (for me) out of my price range, and it just didn’t sing to me.
So that leaves me with # 2. Sigh. [Don’t give up on me yet, keep reading please…]
In my day job, a hard lesson I learned is when to delegate. Get help – don’t do it all yourself. As a beginning programmer we want to do it all, and we think our way is best. No one can do it like we can. Then you hear things like “cloud” (almost no one truly knows what that means) and “outsourcing” which is basically geared for this: focus on the pieces you’re good at, and pay someone else to do “the other stuff.”
The problem is, in writing, editing is not “the other stuff.” Editing is part of the story – it’s your story, not someone else’s. That’s not “extra,” that’s not “fluff,” that’s an integral part of writing your story – fixing it so it gets read. As I state above, the editors do not know your story – you do.
Here’s the thing, though – I have completely stopped writing since 2/16. That’s when I started my research. I haven’t written a word of my manuscript since, and I’m overwhelming myself with information I don’t understand. I can’t yet pinpoint what’s the “good” advice, and what is more outdated, doesn’t apply to me, or is advice coming from others in my very same situation (which might be awesome advice for all I know). I’m putting the cart before the horse, and reading stuff about Agents and Query letters and Contracts and things I’m not ready for. I started asking for some outside critiques, but am now unsure of how best to do that and make it count.
So I haven’t decided. Right now my best guess is choice # 2.67. Yea, that’s not one of the choices, I know. I’m thinking: do a fair amount of research, give myself a fair amount of time to self edit, and when I’m reasonably close, enlist the services of a professional, before submitting anywhere. I don’t know if I will be able to afford that, or if my viewpoint will have changed. Truly, I hope that in the end I will end up self editing until I choke.
Since I’m a complete newbie, I did already enlist some assistance for a 50,000 foot first-look view. I only have 3 chapters written, but I’ve submitted them to Andi at AndLit.com whom I found on Jane Friedman’s site. I’ve had some delightful back and forth email with her, and I can’t wait until my turn comes up and I can receive her feedback. I explained to her I’m brand new, so this is more of a chance to get very general feedback and advice, which is what I’m looking for. She has a tough task ahead of her, I didn’t give her much to go on.
Well that’s it for today. I’ll keep you posted as to where I end up going with this. I already have what I feel is some likely good basic tips, and I will post those, maybe tomorrow.
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