I Edit For Authors. I Write For Readers.

I’m a writer who loves to write. Yet writing can also be so frustrating as to cause one to stop writing for long periods.

How so? you ask.

If a writer is not clear on why they wrote a certain piece, why they let a certain sentiment float from their pen into an inky, judgmental world, this will come through in their writing and they–and their sentiment–are likely to be lost in this world, lost in the drone of so many voices saying so little, so many pages telling us not much.

There are so many stories I began writing whose main thesis never congealed into a cohesive narrative, and so they will never see the light of day, nor the dark of night. They will forever be known only to me, the writer who, in frustration, called a halt to them.

As I edit books and work with authors to fashion the best books we can, my chief thought is always, Does this sentence or that sentence serve the story? If it doesn’t, I recommend the sentence be excised. The most beautiful writing can’t save a sentence that, while beautiful in style, says essentially nothing of substance. All such sentences do say:  Look at me and the big words I know! Praise be to big-word knowers!

As well as being clear on what they’re writing, authors should be clear as to who they’re writing for.

Some authors write to be lauded by reviewers. They don’t want readers so much as to be talked about in the same breath as David Foster Wallace, Michael Cunningham, or the great F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The great irony of this fact is how Fitzgerald hungered for readers for his Gatsby. Readers he could not find until he’d left the world for good.

Other authors write for readers. They still want good reviews, don’t get me wrong, but they hope their good reviews come from the readers who take time out of their busy days and nights–their hectic lives–to carve out a place for their book. And hopefully said book will lodge forever in the reader’s memory, to be thought on and reread again and again.

I know I am firmly in the latter group. I edit for authors. I write for readers.

 

 

 

 

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The Blank Page…

“I love to read thrillers,” many readers say.

“Or maybe I’ll dip into a horror story on this dreary, rain-soaked day.”

For writers, horror does not need to be written to be experienced. A writer experiences a heart-stopping horror story every time they sit down to compose a new piece.

The blank page. The menacing blank page.

It strikes fear into the hearts of even the most experienced authors.

“What if I can’t come up with anything new?”

“What if what I’ve written so far is all I’ll ever write?”

Writing is fear. If you haven’t experienced fear as a writer, you’ve clearly never edited anything.

Writing is bearing your soul with the hope that someone will gaze upon it with compassion, understanding, care. And then putting all your hope in a business that wants to sell your soul in amongst the sci-fi or the mysteries.

Every day, I wake up hopeful of two things.

Maybe I’ll write something good today.

Maybe I’ll read something good today.

I love what I do. Sure, I love to write, though it is quite a lonely pursuit. And it requires other people to do for me what I love doing for anyone I can. When I read a truly good new story in my position as an intern for the wonderful agent I work with, I immediately think, This needs to be on shelves everywhere. In the hands of readers. Being read and enjoyed. And, to whatever extent I can make that happen, I then champion the book. I’ll work with the author to smooth the rough edges. I’ll suggest fixes here, deletions there. I am personally on the lookout to remove every that or just or had which does not serve a story. “Tighten the prose, people!” When I say this, I imagine I’m the captain of a ship in a storm, securing its hatches as we get pummeled in the waves.

In that sense, if not any others, I end each day closer to publication. Be it for me or someone I know. So while I wake up each day–as do any authors who are being honest–afraid of the blank page, at the conclusion of a day I’m always thinking, Publication is possible. It’s one day closer. And, though I can’t write without this trusty computer, I imagine writing myself a note and keeping it permanently on my nightstand to glance at when I need the idea reinforced.

“Dear Derek,

You are a writer. This means you must write. You must be involved with the written word. somehow It also means you wake each day with an old fear burgeoning anew. A fear of the blank page. A fear that you can’t do what you were put on earth to do. Try to think of the blank page as that friend you envy; even though you’re trapped in a palsied body, Blank Page can be anyone he wants to be, can go anywhere he wants to go. You just have to tell him who and where.”

 

 

Fighting Through Doubt

I just spent my toughest hour yet of editing moving this passage here and that paragraph there. Reworking. Rewriting. Rethinking.
I went into the work with a clear vision, and I leave it for the day hoping I’ve done right. Greeting doubt on my way out the office door. To lose faith is so simple, so easy everyone has a talent for it. To maintain faith requires guts. And the ability to stare Doubt in the face and tell him he doesn’t frighten you.
It’s okay to say that. Even though you’re lying and you know it. Maybe one day it’ll be true. I’d like to believe that day will come when I reach publication, though I fear that, even then, Doubt will play a significant role.

A Light At The End Of The Editing Tunnel!

Today’s post is a happy one!

For I have found, and can finally glimpse, the light at the end of the editing tunnel. No, I’m nowhere near done with the long and grueling edit that I’ve got underway on my novel, but as I go I am beginning to see it firming up, becoming something less conceptual and more tangible. I know now what I need to do to make the edit count.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I hate it when I read a book, and I feel like the author phoned it in. Come on, you’ve all read books like that, you know you have. What do you think at their end?

Of course. You think, Why did you waste my time with this? You might even blame the author.

I commit to never wasting your time, dear reader. Both my time and yours are just too valuable for me to do that.

So I’ve come up with a poem to remind me as I continue editing who’s important to a writer.

Their publishers, sure, and if I had one their notes would be at the forefront of my mind. But even more important….

Their readers. We write to get readers.

If the reader

Doesn’t read

What the reader

Should have read

When a story went from concept

Living in your head

To words that might engage,

Enrage,

Or yellow on an antique page,

If what needed communication

Didn’t get to them,

The fault rests squarely

With the writer and his leaky pen.

So spend your ink wisely.

A Dispatch From The Editing Bunker

That’s not what I wrote!

Yeah, it is.

How do you know?

Did you write this book?

Uh-huh.

Then this is what you wrote; no use denying it, because this is what ended up on the page.

But that’s not what I meant to write! That’s not what I meant to say!

Tough.

Boy, have I enjoyed the internal debate that’s been raging in my mind. When what you thought you wrote and what you actually wrote, what you thought you communicated to the reader, and what you actually communicated to the reader differ to the point where your editor can’t quite understand the point of a certain section of writing, then, yeah, your book still needs some work.

There’s always, for me, that little bit of doubt that I let creep in and grow bigger, fed with negative thoughts and statements from this guy himself.

You can’t do it, my mind screams. If you could do it, if you could write what needs to be written, wouldn’t you have written it already?

As I sit hunkered in my editor’s bunker–the lady who edits my work doesn’t have a bunker; that’s just what I’ve taken to calling my room, where I mentally kick my own ass for the sake of what is (I promise) a great book, I try to remind myself that everyone must edit, even the greats, like Fitzgerald or Twain, and everyone has doubts. Push trough them. Review your suggested edits. List them. Brainstorm fixes. Put those fixes in your list. In this way, you can accomplish your edits in the way I need to; bite-sized chunks as opposed to humungous sections of writing that seem to have no end and make you feel like you’re swimming in an endless ocean.