The Joys of Editing

I love to edit. Not just my work, but other people’s work. Ever since I can remember, friends have been coming to me with their reports, essays, resumes and the like. As a twenty-something, I became a newspaper editor–the perfect job. I edited work by reporters and freelancers to make it clear and concise while adhering to AP Style guidelines. I turned obits and birth announcements into the proper formats. I finessed letters to the editor, calling the authors when needed to clarify a point or two.

The soon-to-be-released collection is based on the Seven Questions interview series I run on this blog, plus twenty-seven flash essays on craft and the writer’s life. Stay tuned for the title and cover reveal, and more behind the scenes posts!

As I’m putting togetherΒ the collection of forty-two Oregon author interviews and essays that will be released next month, I’m doing a different kind of editing. I’m not editing columns or news stories thrown together on a tight deadline. I’m editing writers’ essays. Carefully thought, carefully worded essays. Essays about words, about craft, about why we choose to create, the implements we use for creating and how we discipline ourselves, or excuse ourselves, or get so moved by a moment of inspiration that we pull the car over to jot notes down.

This is not like newspaper editing.

I tread carefully as an editor, but here I feel like I’m on my tippy-toes, inching around the text. Hoping not to bump anything. Because I know these are authors who take words personally. Who take punctuation personally. Some of them are famous for their word-working. And here I am, editing their work.

I’ve hired two copy editors to help–one for general text edits, and one for looking at the words on the page, laid out and ready for print. Between the three of us, we should have a very clean manuscript in a few weeks. But as I sit, staring at the screen, I am reminded that as a novelist, I have not had my creative writing edited for print very often. I’ve had my critique group suggest novel edits, and mark any typos, but that’s different than turning a piece of work into an editor and watching what appears, weeks or months later, in print. And it’s also different from having a story about the city council get changed in the heat of deadline.

I’m keeping the lightest touch possible, turning everything into the same style, and only making needed changes. My goal is for the writers not to even notice my light brushstrokes along the surface of their work.

Have you had your fiction or creative writing edited for print? Any horror stories? What should I do or avoid doing?

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Fiction, Revision, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to The Joys of Editing

  1. beatbox32 says:

    I’ve had a short story edited for print. No horror stories and most of the edits made sense. I’ll just say that you’re doing The Lord’s work. Editors, especially those who enjoy it, are truly special!

  2. I don’t think you have anything to worry about, you’re a pro and I really do know what I’m talking about this time. πŸ™‚

  3. I have. It’s scary getting feedback that says, “I hate your main character.” Yes, my editor actually said that. But, as far as it goes, it made it better. Just keep your chin up and do what’s necessary. We authors have a tough skin. If not, we learn to develop one. πŸ™‚

    • Wow, that’s one of those pieces of advice that feel like barbed wire tightening around your book. On the other hand, it’s always good when even hard-to-take criticism leads to a breakthrough or a positive change of some sort.

  4. taristhread says:

    I wrote a cooking column for a local newspaper years ago. I loved my first editor, but when she went on to bigger things…well, let’s just say I quit reading my own column because of the editing, every now and then a friend would mention something to me, but most of the time I turned it in, filed my clips and went on to the next.

    However…..one week, I couldn’t ignore the column. I had a few calls from friends that the column seemed unfinished, and one call from an angry neighbor who was furious that I hadn’t credited her as promised for a recipe she’d shared.

    The editor in order to make space had simply cut off the final paragraph that wrapped up the piece, and gave credit for the neighbor’s recipe. I was embarrassed and very apologetic, but there was nothing I could do. I showed her what I’d turned in…but she never shared another recipe with me!!!

    • Oh that’s awful! I have been on the editor side of the small-town newspaper, making late-deadline decisions because a column doesn’t fit next to a wedding that HAS to run, or whatever, but I always tried to tighten wording in insignificant spots, spread out around the piece, rather than lopping off a whole paragraph. If you got calls about the editing of your column, I bet the editor got them too, if that’s any consolation!

  5. susielindau says:

    I am still working on my rewrite, but plan to have it professionally edited. It sounds like a great job!

    • That’s exciting, Susie! Will you be hiring an editor for grammar stuff or an overall look at the manuscript? I think a fresh set of eyes is always great, especially someone who isn’t connected to your work on a personal level.

      • susielindau says:

        I will need someone for both. I will definitely try to have it read by a couple of professionals. First I have to finish the rewrite, but every day, I come up with something that twists the plot a little better or fills out a character. I am loving the process even if it is slow….

        • I love rewriting, too, Susie. There’s such a thrill when you figure out how to fix something. My favorite is realizing a seemingly incongruous scene from the first draft really has a purpose once it’s changed or moved.

  6. Laura … haven’t had the experience for a full length novel. Only the occassional short story and a long time ago with a weekly feature for a women’s newspaper in NYC. This is such an exciting venture … I am sure you will find the “right” brush stroke and the finished product will shine !! Good editing πŸ™‚

  7. My advice, based on experience, would be not to change words to other words just because the writer knows words that you don’t know. πŸ™‚ That happened to me when my story won an award in college and it was published in the literary magazine. My only consolation was that i’m sure most people never read the magazine anyway.

    • Oh man, Anthony! That’s the kind of horror story I’ve heard. I did once change tinker’s damn to tinker’s darn in a letter to the editor, since our policy was not to print curse words, and got a sound reprimand by a wordsmith who explained that the original author should have put tinker’s dam. Which I wouldn’t have changed. Served me right for not looking it up. There are lots of people who write tinker’s damn, though–probably more that know a dam was a tool used by tinkers.

  8. I’ve never had my work professionally edited before, but its an experience that’s sure to come soon.
    I think your respectful attitude towards it is spot on, however, and I’m keen to see the end result.

    • Respect is the key to so many things, isn’t it, Ileandra? A professional editor can do wonders. Selden Edwards, who I interviewed fairly recently, had worked on his book for thirty years and finally a rewrite based on a professional editor’s recommendations earned him “overnight” success!

      I’m loving how all the essays are coming together now, and I am close to putting the interviews into the layout program. Which means it’s looking more and more like a book. Whoo hoo! I can’t wait to reveal the cover, title and involved authors here in the next few weeks!

  9. 4amWriter says:

    I do freelance editing for one of my “while the kids are in school” jobs. πŸ™‚ I enjoy it, actually. I do most of my work online, although I do have a couple of local clients that I have worked in-person with.

    Some authors are an eency bit prideful. With good reason, of course, but an editor certainly does play close to the fire in some respects. What is most helpful for me is that I explain my suggestions when I do my substantive (creative) editing.

    Absolutely, being respectful is key. So, I’m sure you’re doing a fine job. Good luck with it.

    • I actually do freelance editing on the side, too, Kathryn! But for some reason this kind of editing–working with short essays by lots of authors I admire–is scarier. Maybe because with the freelance clients, I make suggestions and explain why, and then they decide whether to accept my changes. In this case, I’m totally in charge.

  10. Nisha says:

    I’m on the hunt for a professional editor as we speak, Laura.

    Unlike you, I absolutely HATE editing! LOL. It’s my least favourite part of the writing process for me but I’ve already done a few edits on my stories but I would like a professional look-through before I start submitting to magazines/competitions. I think its important because when you become too familiar with your work, it’s amazing what you can miss! πŸ˜‰

    • Good luck with your hunt, Nisha!

      I’ve been doing manuscript editing for the past six months or so, but it’s different giving comments and suggestions to an author because the author has the final say. I use the comment function and track changes in Word, so everything I do is visible and can be overruled if the writer feels strongly about something.

      With this book, I’m actually making the changes. Something seems so formal and final about that. I did ask all my interview subjects to approve my rewrites to their introductions, because that seemed important. Still, little punctuation things and style things have been changed since that round of edits, and just this morning, I took out some adjectives. I think there’s a blog post coming about how writing about somebody’s work for a blog is different than writing about somebody in a book. Hmm…

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