Shifting Gears: From the Writer to the Editor


Some time ago, my good friend Harliqueen decided to pursue a career in writing.  She’s working on building up her work right now, seeking to get three novellas completed before releasing them as e-books.  She’s already got two books finished up, so it’s not going to be long now before the published author’s club has to start printing out some new membership cards.

The thing is, before you finalize any big writing project, you need some good editing.  Particularly when you’re looking to make a living off of your writing, you absolutely have to make sure everything’s as near perfect as you can get it.  And self-editing, while absolutely valuable, doesn’t always cut it.  You already have your vision for the story ingrained in your mind, so you’re going to perceive your writing more similarly to your idealized end product than someone coming to it raw.  Published writers can live or die based on the value of the feedback they get from their editors.  Since Harliqueen is looking to make writing her lifestyle, she really needs some good editors.  She needs someone skilled, who has an innate understanding of the English language and its use in literature.  She needs someone wise, who can not only analyze her work, but can word his/her thoughts in easily applicable and useful forms.  She needs someone evocative, who can efficiently get her thinking along the same lines as the editor, to help her most efficiently make use of that feedback.

Well, apparently Harli couldn’t find anyone with those traits, because she resorted to asking me to join her editing team.  I know, I know.  That poor soul.

I’ve been doing what I can for her, though.  I’ve edited both of her currently completed works.  According to her, I’ve actually been useful, meaning I can finally claim that my life has meaning.  Now, I’ve done a fair bit of writing myself, and I’ve edited a lot of official documents (press releases, business plans, etc.) but this was my first experience editing someone else’s creative works.  And I experienced a lot of things differently than I had originally expected in this process.  I thought, since I’ve finally got some time this weekend, that I’d organize my thoughts on just how that works.  Hopefully, this’ll make me a more efficient editor, should I be called upon to do this again.

When writing, there seems to be an endless list of things I need to keep track of.  Are all my words spelled correctly and am I using proper grammar?  Am I hitting the right sentence rhythm?  Do my dialogues and character thoughts feel natural and distinct from the narration?  Am I communicating my ideas clearly enough?  Is my word choice the best it could be?  Writing is complicated business, and all this and more is constantly running through my head as I flex my creative muscles.  With editing, on the other hand, I’ve found that I mostly need to keep track of one very simple thing: flow.  As I read through the Harli’s work, the biggest thing I need to keep track of is my reading flow.  I’ve found that probably over 90% of the things I need to make notes about in her stories I can detect by simply paying attention to how smoothly I’m moving through her sentences.  If there’s a spelling or grammar issue, awkward wording, confusing phrasing, or pretty much anything else, it’ll cause a hitch at the rate I’m physically reading the sentences.  Every time my reading slows down or I have to double back and re-read something to get a clear idea of what it’s trying to say, that’s almost always something I need to make a note of.  So far, I’ve found that’s my best means of catching things; paying close attention to my reading flow and finding things when it’s broken or changes suddenly.

Harliqueen’s British.  I’m American.  I’ve known Harli for years, and we do most of our communication through writing.  I had thought that this would make me very used to working with British English.  I was wrong.  Everyone knows about the extra ‘u’s in words that’d just end in ‘or’ here.  But did you know that the British often use ‘c’s or ‘z’s where an American would use an ‘s’?  And that British English doesn’t drop silent ‘e’s when adding suffixes to words as much as American English does?  I didn’t, until I started this editing process.  These perfectly fine spellings still seem off to me, but it really wouldn’t do Harli any favors to have a British writing style with odd American spellings randomly thrown in.

For that matter, I’ve had to take pains to try not to impose my own writing style on the work.  There’ve been times where it’s been most efficient for me to put a recommended rewrite of a sentence of phrase in my notes, to best get across the changes I think need to be made, but even those I’ve tried to keep to a minimum.  When people buy the novellas Harli’s going to be putting out, they’ll be doing so for her writing style, not mine, and having a mongrel writing style is only going to weaken her work.  So, even if I would phrase things differently or use different terms for an idea, as long as Harli’s adequately getting the idea across, it’s really not my place to recommend a change there.

Continuing off that idea, there have been a few times I’ve recommended some changes to the content of her work.  Some ideas that could be expounded upon, some characters that had room for better development, stuff like that.  I even had a couple of ideas on how she could have developed those.  Thing is, though, pointing out areas for improvement?  That’s great.  Trying to improve them myself?  Not so much.  In order to make sure that everything is consistent throughout her story, even the ideas of how to develop her concept really need to come from Harli.  Great as a writer I’m convinced I am, and no matter how much I’d enjoy the writing aspect of it, everything in the novella really needs to come from Harli, and it’s best for the work as a whole if I do’t get too involved in developing the content.