Saturday, September 18, 2010

Editing Is the Most Importunt Part of Righting . . .

I wrote the perfect book!  It won't need
much improvement. Hey! There's a lot
of pencil marks on the first draft of my
lovely manuscript!  What's wrong with
 my editor?
First time writers often have romantic notions about writing. They think they’re going to sit down, write a book or a novel, and when they get done it’s going to be perfect. Well, you’re forgetting one important thing—the editing. Writing a book is the easy part if you have a good idea, or a good story, and the writing will come naturally. If you apply yourself, it won’t be long and you’ll have a finished manuscript on your desk. And then you just have to get it published. Right?

Nope, you’re wrong. It’s the editing process that kills so many writers. I’ve often wondered how many great novels and fascinating books are sitting unread in file cabinets because the writer got bogged down in the editing process and finally decided it wasn’t worth the effort anymore.

Well, this is better, but there's still too
many pencil marks on the second draft. 
It's even got the final chapter title,
but this chapter is far from done.
You better love that book, because you’re not going to write it once. You’re going to write it, rewrite it, correct it, correct it again, trash part of it late in the editing process, maybe add another part to it that will have to be edited and re-editing, and rewritten a few times. It often seems endless, it’s frustrating, and it’s not the fun or creative part of writing, but it’s the most important part if you want to end up with a good book. And I don’t know many writers that don’t want to put out a great book.

There is nothing more important than finding a good editor. Some will disagree, but it is impossible to edit your own book, because you have no objectivity on what has become over long months your little baby. You have to find somebody you trust, somebody that will read your prose and be objective about it. And the hardest part, is the writer has to trust the editor enough to accept the sometimes brutal truth that they aren’t nearly the writer they thought they were. You have to be thick skinned. Remember what Frank used to say on Everybody Loves Raymond? “Suck it up Nancy!” That’s great advice for writers. You have to accept that sometimes what you thought was brilliant when you wrote it is muddy and unclear when somebody else reads it. It’s all about trust.

My mom and dad on vacation visiting my sister, Lockie.
Even on vacation, mom is editing a chapter of my book
with that dreaded damned pencil.
Now I was lucky. I have an editor that lives right up the road from me. My mother. She’s a school teacher that’s spent forty years editing bad papers written by students, and she teaches college rhetoric now. She knows her stuff. I’m a pretty good story teller, but sometimes my punctuation is somewhat, creative? She just finished editing my fourth book. I guarantee she’s spent as much time on these projects as I have. You may have to hire a good editor. They’re out there. If you hire one, send them a few sample chapters and check them out and make sure their changes are agreeable to you.

Don’t get me wrong, editing is a pain in the butt, but there’s nothing that’s given me more pleasure than publishing a book (now three, and hopefully four soon). The second and third book went much smoother than the first, but I knew what I was doing after the first one. Everything gets easier through practice, and you’ll get better at it. In fact, I just finished my fiction book One Last Shot, and I’m thinking about framing page 84 of the very first draft I sent to my mother for editing. Of the more than 260,000 words I’ve published since 2007, and another 60,000 in my new book, it was the first page, the only 200 words or so I’ve managed to put together in a row, punctuation and all, that my editor didn’t find one single fault with. In the five years I’ve been working on these projects, it’s the only perfect page I’ve ever written. And you want to know the part that really sucks? I took that scene out in the last draft. My perfect page will never be read.

It's a long haul between
idea and finished product.
There's only two copies.
This is one of two Galley
Proofs. Isn't that clever
how I had this picture taken?
Like there's a thousand!
So be patient. It will come. Don’t neglect the editing, because that will make or break your book. You have to be dedicated to it. But remember that nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Do it. Don’t stop. And don’t give up. It's a long haul between idea and finished book, but trust me, it’s worth it in the end. Keep at it.

Do it every day.  I do.  I work an 8 to midnight shift on top of my full-time job.  And I'm the editor of our lodge's monthly newsletter, and I write articles for Masonic publications, and blogs . . . and I managed to sneak in writing a fiction book when nobody was looking. 

Always remember that a journey of a million miles begins with that first step.

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