793 Words About Editing (Down from 127,987)
When my work first began to be accepted and published, I quickly learned several surprising facts about the process. Likely the most surprising was that many writers just aren’t into self-editing; something I thought was strictly required.
My first forays into professional writing were as a screenwriter, a discipline which exists in an entirely separate universe, worlds apart from published prose. Submit a completed screenplay with so much as an extra space between words, and the assigned reader – often an intern or entry level assistant of some kind, feels perfectly justified in tossing your work into the can, or hitting delete. Seems unreasonable, even elitist doesn’t it? But there is a brutal Darwinian logic at work, stemming from multiple factors. Most significantly, one page of a properly formatted screenplay is said to equal roughly one minute of screen time. Thus, a finished spec (non-commissioned) script should top out at between ninety and one hundred and twenty pages. Typos, overly descriptive narrative and general sloppiness can queer the formula. Nobody has time for that. Anyone accepting screenplay submissions will not want to account for your mistakes. Your work has to be finished. And perfect. That includes editing.
If you’ve written so much as a mash note, (that’s how we used to refer to sexts, kiddies) you’ll know that not everything you drop on the page should stay there. Nobody gets it right the first time. We can all scan for typos and mistakes, but not every writer can take up the cross of amputating pieces of their children. That’s where professional editors and editing services come in. There are these wonderful souls have no interest in the process of world building from the ground up or stringing together narrative. Their calling is to clean, organize, refine. It’s as much an art as the actual storytelling, and we wouldn’t have decent books without them.
That said – maybe I’m weird. I would rather be the one doing the amputating, if it must be done, than to leave that surgery to someone who could never be as emotionally or energetically invested in my monstrous fetuses as I am. It probably has a lot to do with habits learned as a screenwriter, but maybe also with martial arts and weight training, two activities which require constant personal refinement, self-sacrifice and yes, pain.
In any case, I’m inclined to chip away, to leave as little distraction for beta readers and as little work for editors and publishers as possible; to turn in a complete work. My belief is that a highly polished piece is that much more likely to be accepted, quicker to be published, and even more valuable to a publisher – and thus likely to command a larger purse for you the writer, not even to mention what it does for your reputation as professional, timely and attractive to work with.
Every writer is different, and I can’t pretend to dictate how all writers should conduct their process. Maybe some are so driven to move on to the next project that they simply cannot conjure the focus needed to trudge through a fifth, sixth and seventh draft of nothing more than making cuts and additions. Maybe for some, the story is well and truly done, maxed out, past history – yet still needs an outside hand before being ready for mass consumption. Their cartridge is spent and it’s time to chamber the next round.
Now lest I wax too high and mighty/writerier than thou, I should mention that recent experience has taught me that, as much as I may be driven to self-edit, I’m not always that good at it. My upcoming September release, Red Harvest: Haunted Hollow Chronicles Volume 1, probably made it to the “accept” pile by the very skin of its teeth. My editor, one of God’s own angels flying above a purgatory of self-indulgent keyboard and pen jockeys, sent my manuscript back to me with notes that, despite their diplomatic composition, exposed me as a mediocre compositionist with a few half way decent ideas. I learned a lot from her patient yet deserved annihilation of my sloppy prose. I wish for such an entity to nurture and afflict all you smug story slingers out there, if for no other reason than so that I can read your very best work.
But I also encourage you to self-edit the absolute hell out of your work. After all, if you’ve done your homework you should know everybody needs editing. The better your work is, the more readers it’s likely to reach. Swallow your ego, crush your lassitude and refine that diamond. You might be surprised at how satisfied you can be with your own work when you look at it after a harsh slash session or two.
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