Do You Need an Editor to Wrangle Your Writing?
Self-Editing vs. Hiring an Editor
You’re a writer, right?
Your job is to get creative on the page. So, how in Hiawassee do you know when it’s time to employ an editor?
Figuring out the editing process leaves most of us scratching our heads. But you need to understand it before you work with an editor. In high school, we were taught to write dry research papers. College writing programs get super philosophical about literature and tell you to read, read, read. So, how in the hell are you supposed to know the best route for revising your creative writing?
Let’s change our perception first. Editing gets a bad rap. If you were an artist would you paint a picture, then stop halfway through, take off your creative hat and put on some logical, problem-solving fedora to finish the picture?
Not on your life! (Although I like the idea of a problem-solving fedora)
Bob Ross has never once turned happy cloud painting into logically formulated, well-structured cloud painting. Does that mean he doesn’t revise his work? Now, you know and I know he fixes his happy little mistakes all the damn time. He’s dead and he’s still fixing them on PBS.
So, if writing is your art, treat it like an art form. That doesn’t mean you don’t take it seriously. That means you use your creative juices throughout the process. A process that doesn’t suddenly go stiff in the middle of creation. Your skill of getting fascinating ideas onto the page should also serve you even as you start structuring and stylizing a more formal narrative.
Editing is NOT the big, bad monster of writing. It’s just an extension of the process.
There are loosely 5 phases of the writing process. Some flow from one into the next and others overlap each other. Let’s take a look at each part of the writing process:
Guess what? Most of the phases are considered editing rather than writing!
The Brain Dump
This is the phase where you get your ideas down. You write everything you know about the subject. You have ideas flowing out your pores. You feel vibrant and alive with possibilities. This is an important part of the process, but plenty of writers think this is their only job. That after this phase, it’s up to someone else (an editor) to finish the process for them. This would be like a pasta chef preparing the best dough in the restaurant biz, then walking away, expecting someone else to create raviolis and plate them perfectly. Do you want to give up that much creative control? I wouldn’t.
This is where the fun and big decisions begin. Yes, it’s more challenging than free writing. You will have to think. Make choices. Throw out some writing. Consider your audience. Who’s your ideal reader? How can you best communicate with that person? What’s your story’s big message? Sure, you’ve got a plot, but what’s the universal theme— the relatable takeaway that’ll leave your audience with memories and wanting more? Establishing your message is the key to this phase of the writing process.
Your decisions aren’t over, yet. Just because you have a nice structure doesn’t mean each of your sentences and paragraphs flow well. Is your verb tense consistent? Does the dialogue sound authentic and move the story forward? Can you trim some prepositional phrases so you pick up the pace? You’ve got a solid story structure, but we want your sentences to flow like fine wine. Poetry. This is the phase where you must establish your writer’s voice.
Once you’ve completed the last two phases of the writing process, you may notice that moving bigger stuff around means you may have inadvertently changed some of the smaller aspects. Make sure you read and reread your work. Any time you make major changes at the story level you need to make sure the sentence level still makes sense. These are the edits that make one thing flow into the next without glaring errors or repetition. Did you delete a detail that now changed the timeframe of your story? Watch those places. In other words, this is the phase where you are checking for consistent and accurate writing.
Now, and only now, should you worry about typos, misspellings, and grammatical issues. Why? These technical issues don’t show up because you’re a shit writer, they show up because you spent so much time doing the real work of moving around big sections of your writing. You cut, you pasted, you sliced, you diced. Of course, you overlooked that extra “to” in the fourth sentence of the eighteenth paragraph of chapter fourteen. And sometimes homophones happen. Deal.
Can you see how going from a creative dump straight to hiring a proofreader cuts out a huge portion of your creative responsibility?
DO NOT DO THIS! YES, I’M YELLING AT YOU!
Now, what was the original question?
Oh, yes, do you need an editor?
If you are struggling to understand how to take your writing from rough draft to polished manuscript—turning the most delicious dough into pasta—then yes, you should consult with a developmental editor or writing coach. As one of those unicorns who works by teaching writers to understand all the phases of the writing process, you’d think I’d be eager to sign you up and take your money, right?
STOP RIGHT THERE. (I’m yelling again, huh?)
I will urge you, please invest time in learning the phases of the editing process first:
· Learn why it’s important to choose the right POV for your story
· Seek out a universal theme early in your writing so you anchor your message
· Decide who you’re really writing for
Self-editing gives you the power to understand good storytelling so when you do work with an editor, you’ll know how to advocate for your words. Say you don’t agree with your fancy new editor at Random House or Penguin, but you’ve invested time into self-editing. You’ll feel confident to state why you don’t want to change something and you’ll have the reasons to back it up.
Like Steinbeck, you’ll feel empowered to say, “no I’m not changing my controversial ending because breastfeeding offends people. I’m keeping it because it speaks to the human condition. My ending declares that when all is lost we can still depend on each other; that we can find hope.”
If that ain’t the most creative part of your writing journey, then I don’t know why you like words.
P.S. And if my literary reference is lost on you, you better go get yourself a copy of the Grapes of Wrath tout suite…send me a review. What’s your favorite literary classic that challenged the status quo?
Sign up for The No Nonsense Naked Editing Challenge: 7 Days to Go from Sh*tty Rough Draft to Self-Editing Superstar