I had a friend ask me, when I was working on Happyface, if I disliked having an editor. He couldn’t imagine someone telling him what’s good and what’s bad in his writing. I could see where some people would have issues with that. I’m not one of them. It would take a certain level of confidence that I’ve never mustered to assume that what I’ve written is the best it can be. I’ve only had great editors and I consider it an important advantage to my writing.
The books of mine you’ve read would not be the same had I worked on them alone. My editor (Connie) is great at taking what tends to be a rather personal work and finding the broader strokes of it. I’m often amazed at how she takes something I’ve written or pitched, and somehow understands me enough to say “I think THIS is what you’re trying to do here,” in a way that maintains the spirit of my words but also adds a laser focus to it. I see why I chose that, and how to burrow in deeper.
Meetings with Connie can also be like therapy. We’ve had very long conversations about my work (who else is going to listen to me talk about my fantasy lands for 3 or 4 hours?) where she can take away all the excess, all the extraneous ideas and pieces and really get at the core of what it is that I care about, what the story really is, taking it all apart and rebuilding it from the scraps.
Sometimes it’s rough. Sometimes I get pages of notes that pick apart every other sentence, she wants to cut half of the stuff I just know is good but it doesn’t fit. The truth hurts but she’s always right. Sometimes it takes me a day or two to realize it.
My first draft of something can see close to half of it cut. Essentially saying “THIS stuff is good, this stuff over here is just okay. Let’s cut that stuff and make it as good as the best parts.”
More than a few times, I’ve gotten notes like “Ew! This part is creepy!” or “Definitely cut this section.” I flush red for a few seconds and start deleting, glad those parts didn’t get any further.
When you’re writing 60,000+ words it gets very hard to see things objectively. At some point it all blends together, the good and the bad, and it just exists in it’s own world. There are times I just have to rely on someone else to read it and be honest with me. Connie reads my words over and over and over, always making interesting notes and comments. Sometimes she just knows the right questions to ask to get my mind rolling: “Why did you choose this setting? Why is this character here?”
Of course, not everyone has an editor at a big publisher to lean on. Find someone you can trust who can really be truthful and conversational and elevate your work, and who won’t butter you up and say the nice things you secretly or not-so-secretly want to hear. A good editor is completely indispensable.
Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com
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