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Writer & Editor: The Importance of Teamwork

Think together. Work together. Find success!

A good editor will not just correct your work. He or she will make sure your thinking is as crisp as your prose.

Understanding the difference between correction and direction.

 

I work with some terrific editors. And not just because the keep feeding me work (which, in turn, allows me to keep feeding my family). That’s huge, of course, but the best benefit of working with these particular folks is that they understand the difference between directing a writer and correcting a writer.

 

Both are important and, dare I say, both are vital to a successful story. But the secret to that success lies in understanding when and where to apply each. And in being willing to do so.

 

Correction is, in general, the easiest to define. Take something wrong, invalid or mistaken and make it right, valid and accurate. But this involves much more than a quick spelling or grammar check. Editorial correction can apply to form, function, content or context. But, all things considered, it is, for the most part, a question of right and wrong. It is objective and based on pervasive industry norms.

 

Directive editing is not so simple, so cut and dry. Here’s what my friend, Penny Fletcher, noted author and fantastic editor, has to say about the editorial direction process:

 

“Directive editing involves a lot of one-on-one work, developing plots, characters, dialogue and settings. These are the make or break elements that can be the difference between getting published or getting rejected. Authors should think of this process as story development, not correction.”

 

What Penny is saying here is that directive editing requires some creative and constructive give and take between the writer and the editor. To make this work, both indviduals have to be adults throughout what can be a painful process. And, when I say this, I’m looking squarely at you, Newbie Writer.

 

Yes, it hurts when your editor calls you up to tell you a particular setting or section or plot point just doesn’t work. Many first time authors get so upset by the criticism they forget to listen to the “why.” And that’s the most important part.

 

  • Does it feel too surreal, is it too different from the vibe and feel of the rest of the work? Does it slow down the plot or create confusion?
  • Does the dialogue feel real or forced or farcical?
  • What, exactly, is causing the editor to offer direction?

 

If you get offended when someone you hired to be honest with you wants to apply a few grace notes to “your baby” you will miss out on a truly wonderful opportunity to create something that is infinitely better than the sum of its parts.

 

Consider this…your editor is only doing what she is paid to do. It’s not personal. And, believe me, it can be difficult. As an editor, you understand that people are entrusting you with their heart and soul when they hand over that manuscript. More than a few times I’ve had writers inform me that “the manuscript is done, it just needs a little cleaning up” only to dig in and realize the story needed to be completely reworked.

 

The truth is, until you have established yourself as an author, you really don’t know whether or not a story is “ready.” And, if you don’t trust your editor, you may never learn.

 

Remember these keys:

 

  • Good editors are there to serve writers. They want you to be successful. The better job they do, the better your work will be.
  • Good editor will not try to re-write your entire story, however they will make changes and suggestions that allow you to improve. And, if your story needs to be re-written, they will tell you.
  • Good editors are on your team and are working hard to see your side win. Even when they are being critical, they are being constructive.
  • Good editors will be specific. If an editor offers general advice but does not give you specific examples or specific direction, what they have done is offer an opinion, not edit a story. So, don’t be afraid to ask for specific suggestions. It will only help you as a writer.

 

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11 Responses so far.

  1. Adam says:

    BTW…

    It took less than 5 minutes before one of my most astute friends found one of the typos in this post. There are two. (Might be more;-) Can you find them?

  2. I work with some terrific editors. And not just because THEY keep feeding me work (which, in turn, allows me to keep feeding my family). Typo.

    Both are important, and, dare I say, both are vital to a successful story. This is a run on sentence and requires a comma after ‘important’, or remove the second ‘both’ to make it a compound predicate.

    And in being willing to do so. This is an incomplete sentence; there is no predicate. Literary license?

    Take something wrong, invalid, or mistaken… I prefer the Oxford comma, but this is a style point only.

    But, all things considered,… A cliche.

    Directive editing is not so simple, so cut and DRIED. Typo.

  3. Adam says:

    Several great catches there, Lewis. Your assessment offers a terrific example of why a skilled editor is vital. Spellcheck cannot catch everything, particularly when the misspelled word is an actual word. In most cases, the writer may catch that sort of thing; but, after reading something a few times, you cease to “see” it.

    Plus, an editor will also catch formatting and style errors. While I tend to avoid the Oxford comma, for example, if I were writing in the Chicago Manual format, it would be expected.

  4. Lori Rutherford says:

    So I do not cheat, I have not read reviewers posts above mine. This is what I found:

    Many of your sentences begin with a conjunction, which has been a no-no in the English language since the beginning. The rules state a conjunction is to join two shorter sentences together to make a more fluid sentence, and the flip side of run-on sentences is to take out the conjunction and add a period making two shorter sentences.

    Some of your sentences that begin with a conjunction are actually fragments, not a complete sentence. (if you pull the sentence out of it’s paragraph, it make no sense.)
    Examples:
    “And not just because the keep feeding me work (which, in turn, allows me to keep feeding my family). “–Paragraph one

    “And in being willing to do so.” –Paragraph two

    “But this involves much more than a quick spelling or grammar check”–Paragraph three

    ****In all three, and I stopped at three, when taken for what the sentence reads, it is a fragment, an incomplete thought. If you had used a comma in the preceding sentence and connected these sentences with the conjunction in the beginning of your next sentence, it would have been a complete thought.
    example: your sentence reads this way: Many first time authors get so upset by the criticism they forget to listen to the “why.” And that’s the most important part.

    I believe it grammatically would have been correct to read this way: Many first time authors get so upset by the criticism they forget to listen to the “why”, and that’s the most important part.

    Punctuation error in: “Consider this…..”

    Paragraph one states: “the” instead of “they”

    Lastly, and I may be wrong on this point or stretching something here, but in the following Paragraph:
    “Consider this…your editor is only doing what she is paid to do. It’s not personal. And, believe me, it can be difficult. As an editor, you understand that people are entrusting you with their heart and soul when they hand over that manuscript. More than a few times I’ve had writers inform me that “the manuscript is done, it just needs a little cleaning up” only to dig in and realize the story needed to be completely reworked.”

    ***something feels wrong with this paragraph, and I can only describe it as you are first talking as yourself, and your personal knowledge…”and believe ME, it can be difficult” but then it seems you switch and talk…what is the word I am looking for….”as an editor, YOU understand” So you have switched from speaking with words like “I” to “you” but you are still conveying your own personal knowledge…..I could be wrong here, but this feels wrong or improper.

  5. I generally let something sit for awhile. After coming back to it, mistakes that I missed will jump off the page and slap me upside the head. Working the NYT Sunday crossword needs the same treatment, at least most of the time.

    • Adam says:

      Absolutely! I try to practice “don’t publish till tomorrow” approach. Give it a day to rest and read it again.

    • Adam says:

      Lori,

      You bring up a great point about something just “not feeling right.” This is because I chose to switch POV (point of view) in the middle of a paragraph.

      It is much better, in written communication, to split paragraphs before changing POV. And, when writing for the web, this is an even more pronounced need. Shorter paragraphs are expected. Generally one point per paragraph.

      Those of us who have a print background sometimes balk at this expectation, but our pushback does not change online reader expectation. On the web, longer sentences are “time on site” killers. Shorter sentences and paragraphs that allow for quick reads and scans are on the money.

    • Adam says:

      Your comment about conjunctions is also a good one. This is an apt example of the difference between “proper grammar” and “prose that sells.”

      While proper grammar demands the use of conjunctions (and the associated commas and semicolons), writing style or interpretation allows for artistic license, as defined by the medium. One of the most popular contemporary style derivations is what I call the “thought sentence.”

      This is a style that employs writing as we think, not as grammar requires us to write. It is similar in style to impressionist painting. Shorter, quicker brushstrokes that paint a leading picture. A close examination makes the work seem broken and disjointed, but if you stand back the picture jumps out at you. This happens because your mind has eagerly filled in the blanks. This makes impressionism, more than any other visual art style, interactive.

      In the same way, by choosing to use clipped, broken sentences, authors offer readers a quickly digested, enjoyable and compelling read.

      This would not be the tone or style best for literary fiction, but it works great on the web and in print editorials.

  6. Jeremy Brand says:

    I am not an editor, but I think I caught a couple of things not previously addressed.

    1. Editor should be plural
    2. Semicolon before and comma after “however”

    Good editors will not try to re-write your entire story; however, they will make changes and suggestions that allow you to improve. And, if your story needs to be re-written, they will tell you.

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