Monday, October 7, 2019

My Old-Fashioned Personal Editor

The past few posts have been about the editing process - both understanding what you can learn from your mistakes, and the importance of editing other people's works. Both of these contribute to your skills as a writer, but there is another facet to this that I wanted to give special attention to. Past posts have discussed the importance of developing habits around being a writer - writing on a regular schedule, having a space where you are just a writer, and so on. This time, I will talk about the importance of having an editor who knows your style and you can trust implicitly.

Don't think that having a personal editor is some fancy thing only done by professional writers - it is very simple and incredibly beneficial. More importantly, everyone has access to this resource if they are so inclined. It just requires dedication to taking the steps necessary to have that person who can edit your work.

My editor is from the old school of writing. He is cranky and stubborn, very detail-oriented, and insists on editing printed copy - none of that edit-on-the-screen technique. He puts on a pair of Ben-Franklin-style reading glasses, sits in the corner with a red pen, drinks his scotch and goes through the copy to devastating effect. This is not my style - when I write, I have my laptop out, my gin and tonic nearby, maybe some music on in the background, and I am in a very relaxed mindset. That's my writing place. It's the exact opposite of my editor.

Getting along with my editor isn't really necessary. His job and place in the world is to edit. Find corrections and mark them. Look for problems with continuity, plot movement, etc. I create, he corrects. It's a very workmanlike relationship. It works well, since he knows my style and knows that sometimes when I use repetition, it is deliberately for effect. He will also tell me when that effect does not work. Our years of collaboration have brought us to a comfortable understanding of what works and what doesn't.

In case you haven't figured it out, my personal editor... is me. At least for my smaller pieces, I do most of my own editing. The point of this discussion is to highlight what I do to edit my work. The most important thing I do is I stop being a writer. I put things aside that bring out my creativity, and I get into my analytical mode. Gin changes to scotch, laptop changes to printed copy, and so forth. I sit in my editing nook and put the red pen to work.

Does this sound like a technicality? Not really. Just as being a writer means creating habits and patterns that help you create, editing is the same thing. The patterns are different, but if they are consistent, they develop into their own mindset. More importantly, different patterns help you detach from one role and take on the other one. (Ask my co-workers about the Ben Franklin reading glasses. My favorite pair dates back to the 19th century and when I edited copy, there they were on the bridge of my nose.)

The other reason this helps our process is because when we write and create, we bond ourselves to those words. That creative mindset can read the copy and think about all the characters, mood, etc., but at that point, the mind no longer sees words and punctuation; it is just reviewing ideas. An editor has to forgo all of the passion and love poured into the words and focus on details. A writer might see a beautiful description of a sun set. The editor has to find the split infinitives and point out that it is not spelled "sun set."

As you develop your process, think about the different roles you play. Define them, own them, and make them unique to your character. And if you don't like scotch, I understand. Gin will do.

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