Friday, September 21, 2012

The Editor Is Your Friend. No, Really: Part 1.

Aha! Some solid information in this blog for a change!

Not that many of you don't LOVE pot roast recipes...I know you do. :-)

But it's occurred to me several times (because people come right out and tell me, doncha know) that after as many years as I've spent in this profession, and as many millions of words as I've written, slashed and burned, rewritten, cut and pasted, and rephrased with and for people...I might know more than a little about this editing game. How it ought to work...and when to run for the hills, if necessary, to avoid major headaches and/or a lot of wasted money or BOTH.

Ironically, even in this age of unprecedented information, a lot of people DON'T know much about editing. Why it's necessary in the first place. And when they're being well-edited versus HACKED. 

So in a series of posts, I aim to help you out with a little information about editing, editors, and the process...and how to make the most of it. It'll be based on my experience, which is wide-ranging and varied. It'll be laced with more than a little cantankerousness. But above all, it'll be helpful.

Trust me on this. It will be. Because that's what I DO. 

So let's start from the very beginning...

(This space for singing, "Do Re Mi" to yourselves, now that I've put that song in your heads. HAH!)

The first thing you need to know about an editor--and the most important thing---is whether you need one or not.

The short answer is, "DUH."
The long answer is, "Of course you do."
Everyone does. Yes, even Stephen King. Even Mary Higgins Clark (something that's been painfully obvious by its absence of late). Even lots and LOTS of other "name" authors. And you can tell them I said so. They won't care, of course, because they don't know who I am. (Yet.) But, hey, make my day. Go ahead and tell 'em if you like. Heaven knows reader reviews on Amazon do it all the time.
(When they don't get taken off, like one of mine did. But I digress.)

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, can use a good editor. I don't just say that because I'm in the business; I say it because it's true. Just as a singer needs a vocal teacher (the "third ear" that can tell you where you're going wrong--or right), the writer who knows and uses a good editor will benefit from that "third ear" wordsmith. You'll never regret having a good edit, and your work WILL be much better as a result.

Not "may" be. WILL be.
Why is that?

1) Good editors will catch things you'll never see. Literally.
This is a given, but the reason it happens is more complex. You see, our brains are wonderful things. They will take a piece of writing and "fill in" gaps in it so that when we read it, it makes sense to our brain--even if what's on the page is gibberish. If you doubt this, take one of those "tests" online that has a box of text with letters missing, the wrong letters in a word, etc., and then tells you something about your perception and intelligence if you can understand it. News flash: it has little to do with perception and intelligence. It has to do with brain chemistry, and how our synaptic connections fire. For some of us, they fire faster...but for all of us who write, they can actually sabotage us. You've experienced this sensation if you've ever spent so much time on a piece, either reading or editing, that you literally don't "see" it anymore. It happens to everyone at one time or another. Hence, the need for a "third eye"--or, more accurately, a second PAIR of eyes. 

2) Good editors catch you out on every single bad habit you have.
We all--every one of us--have pet words we lurrrve to use in our writing. I LOVE to use "just" and "even" and, of late, "basically." Those are only (another favorite of mine) the tip of the proverbial writing berg; I have many more that good critique partners and editors have caught and underlined or highlighted (or just slashed and burned). (See? I told you it was one of my favorites.)  We all also have pet phrases, ways we express ourselves, or ways we like our CHARACTERS to express themselves that are cliched, are anachronistic for the time period in which we set our tales, or make all our people sound the same. What does this say about our writing? That we're lazy? That we don't have wide enough vocabularies? That we're uncreative, or uneducated, or something else equally nefarious?

Nah. All it says is that we,  like all of mankind, are creatures of habit. Part of it may be a tiny shred of "laziness," but in truth? I've rarely if ever met a truly LAZY writer. I've met a lot of them who fall back on habits, cliches, or pet phrases...but that's not because they're not trying to write the best things they can. It's simply a matter of writing from a certain comfort zone. We speak the language we speak, however broad or narrow that is, unless someone gently prods us to stretch ourselves and do better. And that's the end result of a good editor...

3) Good editors help you write better than you think you can.
Notice what we say here. Good editors don't tell you you need to write "like someone else." Good editors don't mess with your voice--any more than absolutely necessary--but, once again like a good vocal teacher, they'll strengthen that voice and deepen it until it's true music. Good editors don't make you change things that don't need changing--but they don't let you get away with doing something that's "good enough," either. They'll challenge you. They'll dare you to try things you don't think you can do. They'll push you and prod you and nag you to the point where you wonder whom they think they're talking to, anyway.

The answer? They're talking to a good writer who they think can be better. And the stubborn, persistent, craft-minded, picky ones won't let you get away with less than your best. You may never work so hard in your life as when you have a good editor--but your writing will amaze and astound you when you look back at the difference between what you started with...and what you end with.

That's with a good, topnotch, professional, skilled, artist of an editor.
But how do you know one when you see one?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, and we'll talk about that!



Deb said...

Well and truly said! I know it's been true for my books that have had the benefit of your b/l/o/o/d/y
r/e/d p/e/n gentle, savvy touch.

jude urbanski said...

Janny, a super post topic and a job well done, too! Information we need.