I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Embracing the red pen



When you hear the word "edit," do you cringe? When you see an editor, do you grab your manuscript and run as fast and far in the opposite direction as you possibly can? When you meet editors at writers conferences, do you feel like you're participating in some sort of macabre publishing version of speed dating?

I'd like to change your minds about editors and editing. I have a novel perspective on the whole editor versus writer conflict. (Pun intended.) I have a split personality: I live my life just like you--pursuing publication--but as editor of Connections, MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International's leadership magazine, I also decide whether others are published.

I wanted to get into some nuts and bolts of editing in this post, but decided to lay some ground rules first.

Next time I post, I'll show you how I edit an article, sharing tips and tools to apply to your writing, whether it's an article or a book chapter.

Onto the rules:
  1. Editing is (initially) your responsibility. You don't have the option of saying, "I'm a writer, not an editor." Learn to self-edit, which means knowing your weaknesses and your strengths. Check out: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King and Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell.
  2. Editing is inevitable. Someone else is going to edit your writing. (My friend Roxanne read through this blog post for me.) It may be your critique partner or--Woo hoo!--an editor at the publishing house who bought your manuscript. At some point someone will attack . . . I mean, mark your words with the dreaded red pen.
  3. Editing is painful. Revising and reworking your manuscript is just that--work, not play, and therefore it isn't fun and games. Editing takes concentration, effort, and yes, sometimes it takes sweat and tears to craft writing that sings. Sometimes word count trumps that sentence or paragraph you love. Here's the question: Do you want to be a decent writer or an excellent writer? Editing can cut 500 words to 250--and transform ho-hum writing to captivating.
  4. Editing is discriminating. By discriminating I mean you edit carefully so you do not destroy a writer's voice--yours or someone else's. More on preserving writer's voice in a future post.
So, do you disagree with my editing rules? Do you have any of your own rules?


27 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I'll never forget having to cut a 2,500 word short story to 1500. Thought it couldn't be done. That's when I learned the phrase "Murder your little darlings". lol But when I finished the story danced. One of the best lessons I ever learned. Great post, Beth.

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  3. Agreement here! My critique group named ourselves "The Red Ink Society". I tell my students that only the Word of God goes unedited...everything else is subject to the red pen.

    I actually enjoy editing. It's fun to look over a passage and make it better.

    P.S. I didn't edit the first comment above...I just hit the "post comment" button by accident!

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  4. Yay, for TEE sharing her expertise!

    Weirdly enough, I sort of crave an editor's input. Not so much on the nitty-gritty proofreading stuff, but on the elements of story. I worry that I'm blind to flaws in my plot...sometimes I just want someone to tell me what needs to happen in each scene, then I'm happy to write it...:)

    Beth, my favorite of your points is No. 4 - editing without destroying the writer's voice. Partially because selfishly I feel protective of my voice...but mostly because I think that must be something that takes great skill...a skill I know you have as an editor and which, I'm sure, comes in waaay handy as a writer. Looking forward to more editing posts!

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  5. Oh, also, to piggyback on Pat's comment about "murdering your darlings"...I think I had that same feeling when we had to write a 500-word synopsis for the Frasier. I had previously written a four-page synopsis and cutting it down felt like trying to breathe in a smoke-filled room - uh, not that I hang around smoke-filled rooms all that often. But yeah...it was definitely a challenge, and yet, like Pat, it truly was one of the best exercises possible, both from a "learning to edit with discernment" standpoint and simply getting down to the core of my story.

    Okay, done rambling.

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  6. I love, love, love editing, as some of you know. Call me crazy--or I prefer TEE!
    And there are so many different levels to editing: what I call "Big Picture" edits and then "Fine Line" edits. Melissa, you're talking about "Big Picture" stuff--and it is just as vital to do that kind of editing right as it is to get the "Fine Line" stuff (commas, colons, spelling.)
    I have two stories I'll share in later posts about editing a writer's voice--kind of a Do/Don't scenario.

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  7. Oh, Sweet TEE. How we love your take on editing! It makes is sound so rosy, yet realistic. I personally enjoy editing. I'm way better with something to work with than a dreaded blank page...

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  8. I've always had a love/hate thing with red ink. At the time I turned in a paper or story, I believed it to be the best thing since the founding of Taco Bell. But if my teacher didn't mark anything besides the grade at the top, I figured she hadn't even bothered to read it. :-)

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  9. Jenness, like you, I want feedback, not just a what-good-is-this-to-me grade. Give me input, insight--something to sink my teeth into and wrestle with. Uh-uh, need to edit this comment for mixing my word pictures.
    And Amy, I'll take a messy filled page over a blank one any day!

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  10. This is wonderful, TEE. Love it! And the neat pic! How necessary, and how much further editing takes us into writing, just like life-editing takes us into Him. The psalmist David was a great writer. He said, "Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me," (strange word use, comfort.) I take that to mean, thy red pen improves and strengthens me. Selah.

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  11. Delightful comment, Dee! Amen to that!

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  12. Oooh, Beth! A post on editing a writer's voice. I wanna read that one!

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  13. Let's just say that I've done it right--and I've done it wrong. I am a strong advocate for respecting a writer's voice--and so I am careful to do so when I edit. More to come.

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  14. Great post Beth - as always! The hardest part of getting an edited manuscript is facing the fact that our "baby" isn't perfect. I have to have my usual time to pout, then I realize they may be right...then I'm forced to eat humble pie! (It doesn't taste good either.)

    But I also see many times when someone wants to edit how you say something, so I too cannot wait until you have your post on editing around a writer's voice.

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  15. I'm actually disappointed when crit partners don't hit me with a lot of red ink. I would much rather evaluate a multitude of edits than to hear "great, nothing to improve!" - because I know there's ALWAYS something to improve! :-)

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  16. Beth, what a great post! :) I love how so many have voiced what I, too, think. Having feedback (whether it was on a college paper or on the next great novel--or perhaps the first, in my case), gives direction and encouragement. I can see it is important to appreciate that an editor may not see "my baby" the way I do, and I must trust that an editor will see how to make it better. Then, I can work to that end. Thanks so very much for sharing your insight with us. I can hardly wait to read more about editing!:)

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  17. Beth, when you edit my work, I see it as a gift. I feel so blessed that you've shared your expertise with me. I think that has something to do not only with your talent and sharp eye for improvement, but also with your careful respect of my voice. Trust makes all the difference in the world when you're talking about the author and editor relationship.

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  18. Evangeline, you said the magic word--and preempted my future blog post. Trust is so important between editor and writer!
    And kudos to those of you who already embrace the red pen! You will be better writers for it!

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  19. If anyone wants to weigh in on future editing topics besides the ones I've mentioned, go right ahead! I'm taking notes!

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  20. I love what Susie does. Not only does she mark us up (remember all those colors in the MBT retreat in Florida?), but she picks out a couple of sentences that she likes as well. I like to tell my critique partners when something they've written is special.

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  21. Ah, I have some definite thoughts on that too, Teri! And I use a whole rainbow of colors. Hint: my critique partners love to see green highlights!

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  22. Sounds like a topic for another post, Beth!

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  23. Michelle Lim9/2/10, 10:15 AM

    I am so not a great editor. One place I looked that really helped was Brandilyn Collins Website Archives for her days to editing. Then I Susify. Then I sit down and cry because I still don't have it. Then I remember only God is truly perfect and work it a few more times. And I truly thank God for those awesome critique buddies that keep me sane and on track! I think editing is the endurance exercise for authors. Necessary, grueling and oh so rewarding at the end.

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  24. Michelle,some writers are just not going to like editing. But at least you know it's not optional. You need to stick "reward" somewhere in your process--I see you've got gratitude in there--and just go through the steps. And critique buddies are the best!

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  25. Michelle Lim9/2/10, 10:40 PM

    I'll have to remember the chocolate. Thanks for the reminder.Great thoughts Beth.

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  26. Beth, thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I commented to your comment there, so won't repeat it all here :)

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  27. Beth,
    Great blog. Thanks so much for sharing. Thank you so much for helping me with my articles.

    I am always appreciative and learn from what you revised.
    Many, Many Thanks!

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