Thursday, May 7, 2009

Editing! The Bane of Writers...or is it?

Long ago, when I was ten, I proudly typed out my first story on an old blue electric typewriter. I handed the finished product over to Mom and returned to my humming typewriter to write my next masterpiece. A few minutes later, my mother handed me my story and told me how much she liked it. I was positively glowing until I saw red ink scrawled all over my precious story.

Mom, the English teacher, had corrected/edited the whole thing.

I was gutted.

"I thought you liked it!" I burst into tears.

"I do! But you need to fix a few things," my mother answered.

And thus I learned the joys and heartache of the editor's red pen.

Years later I pull manuscripts out of the mail with my mother's red ink scrawl littering the pages. I always send everything I write to her. She always tells me how much she loves it. Her red marks show me where I misstepped.

In fact, I have a handful of people armed with red pens (and post its, highlighters, etc) who read through my manuscripts. Each one has their own strength and they do a great job fixing up my goofs and gaffs.

And how do I feel when I see all those tags, highlights and red marks?


Over the years I have learned that I cannot truly edit my own work. I often see what I know should be in a sentence, not what is actually there. My husband has pointed out word inversions, etc that I couldn't even see. I accept my imperfections and that I need to be edited. It is just part of the process.

I am NOT one of those writers who is convinced each word they write is perfection and that to edit their work is to destroy it. I know I'm a total goof that types fast, but has an internal muse that talks faster than my fingers. I'm a good storyteller as a whole, but sometimes I really tangle up words and plot lines and I need someone to tell me how to fix the whole mess.

Yep, folks, I'm a writer who admits that I love my editing notes.

I have had writers tell me that if the editor changes one word of their precious manuscript, they'll walk. I think that is a pretty extreme response, but its not as uncommon as you think.

I'll be honest, sometimes those red notes make me want to tear my hair out. Most of the time the edits are simple ("use its not it's here" "you accidentally put Katie's name instead of Jenni" "they're drinking tea, not coffee"), but sometimes it ends up being a big plot hole you could drive a fleet of tanks through.

But I do believe you can also be edited to the point of 1) losing your voice 2) losing your story and 3) losing your confidence.

A lot of writers have three sets of editors.

1. Their friends/family who proofread their work

2. Their writing group

3. The editor that bought their story

Here is what I have discovered along the way about each of these groups.

The Proofreaders

Make sure that the people you choose to proofread your work are going to kick you in the head with steel-toed boots. They can't be soft on you at all. They have to poke their fingers through your plot holes, tug on broken story threads, and tell you when your characters are coming across like cardboard cutouts. They should be people you trust to give you the absolute truth. They should be able to praise you when you rock and chastise you when you phone it in.

Do NOT pick someone who will shrug their shoulders and say, "It was okay."

Pick someone who is fair, not afraid to point out your mistakes, but will also be honest about if the story works or not.

Writing Groups

I have mixed feelings about writing groups. My own experience was positive, but also short-lived. We mostly pushed each other to write and never really critiqued each other. It was all about getting stories turned out and not putting off writing. It was about dedication to the craft.

I suppose you could consider my original postings online of As The World Dies as a sort of critique group. I received countless reviews and criticism on the work. I learned a lot from those comments and it was a good experience over all.

But I have encountered more than one writer completely gutted and traumatized by their experiences in writing groups. The goal of a writing group should be to help hone the writing skills of a writer and develop their unique voice. If you're not learning about sentence structure, punctuation, proper grammar, and encouraged to bring clarity to your writing style in a positive manner, but instead are ripped to shreds, drop out and find another group. Your work should never be edited down to the point where your voice is lost and you feel like a gutted shell. You should receive both positive and "negative" comments on your work.


My experience so far with editors has been positive. I felt Rebecca May did an amazing job editing my short story for Zombology. In fact, I could not really discern what she had changed. I appreciate her hard work.

I did have one experience I would like to share. I submitted a short story for an anthology and had actually tweaked it from its original form to fit the submission guidelines. My husband chastised me for altering the story, but I really wanted to make it into this anthology. When the editor responded, he pointed out the addition to the story as I misstep and I was relieved. I was never comfortable with the change. But he went on to make suggestions that would have completely changed the premise of the story, excised a major character, and completely demolished the heart of the story.

I was gutted.

But I wanted to be published so desperately, I considered his changes. My husband was adamant that I not compromise my story anymore. I finally agreed with him and passed on rewriting the story for the anthology to suit the editor. I returned it to its original form and posted it on my Scribd page.

If you have a piece being considered by a publishing house and they tell you how they want you to change the story to suit their needs and you don't agree with those changes, you can walk away. It may be the hardest thing you have ever done, but that is an option. And I am talking about big changes, removing a subplot, deleting a character, completely changing your plot, etc. If they are asking you to use proper punctuation, grammar, etc., I would suggest listening to their corrections and learning from them.

Your proofreaders, writing group and editors should all be aiming for the same goal: to make your story the best it can possibly be. This may mean a few hits to your ego and learning how to revise your story to make it tighter, but it will be worth it in the end.


  1. lol. I edited four pages today and nearly drove myself nuts doing it.

    Kody + editing older, passive writing = very little outcome in one sitting.

    Seriously--you know how slow I've been editing my one novel.

    Great post, Rhi! ;D I was wondering why you'd abandoned your blog. :P

  2. I don't abandon my blog. I just ignore it sometimes when I have to write on my stories. :)

  3. That is so funny - my mom is an English teacher as well - I had her, in fact, for seventh grade English - she ripped me apart. But I learned a lot from her, and she's sill my most critical reader. She won't let anything by.


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