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.
As I’m putting together 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?