To Write Is Human, To Edit, Divine

Recently, at the Seattle Writing Workshop, I met an agent during a pitch session and pitched a novel that I had written over a year ago. When I was finished with my pitch, which went okay but not as beautifully as I had imagined in my head, we still had some time left, so he asked me what else I was working on. I talked about the novel that I had finished after the one I had pitched, and he perked up. He seemed more interested in that one than my original pitch idea. He asked to see that one, too, and I readily agreed.

While both manuscripts were technically “done,” (no book is truly done until it hits bookstores) and had gone through a few revisions, I had wanted to read through the second one at least one more time before I sent any part of it out. Nevertheless, I was determined to get both manuscripts to the agent. Agents rarely request full manuscripts on the first meeting (at least that’s been my experience). They typically want a synopsis and the first ten or so pages. If they like what they see, then they request the full manuscript. I knew I had to deliver these manuscripts as soon as possible while my meeting was still fresh in the agent’s mind.

The day after the workshop, I began re-reading and editing the second manuscript in earnest – all 400 pages of it. It had been at least six months since I had read the book, and my eyes were fresh to the material despite living and breathing every word on the page for so long, I found things I didn’t like, small errors that drove me mad, and opportunities to clean up the dialogue. Fresh eyes really helped. I bet I could go through it again in six months and find more things. Maybe manuscripts are like wine; they get better with age because you have fresh eyes on the material. In the end, I was able to get the manuscripts out to the agent in a few days (huge sigh of relief).

Editing is not my favorite writing activity, but it’s a skill that is required. I typically write a first draft and do an immediate reading and editing session with the material before I hand it over to my beta readers. Then, I let the manuscript sit for a few months and work on something else. Working on something else takes my mind off of the material and refreshes my perspective on it. The more I edit my own material, the more I realize how I’d like to have a professional editor helping me. Such a person would have a cold-blooded instinct that would really make my work shine.

In my nonfiction work, I have had the opportunity to work with a wonderful editor who is sharp-eyed and very skillful. I love working with her when I submit articles to this trade magazine. She can take good work and make it great just through her suggestions and edits. I’ve compared my articles side-by-side, and her edits have clearly improved the material. I only wish she was available to edit my fiction work. I believe we’d make a great tandem because her editing skills are beyond reproach.

While I haven’t made it through the entire publishing process yet, I know the value of a good editor, but not just any editor will do. I need one who understands my style and approach and does not attempt to overwhelm that with over-editing. A bad match could change the whole tenor of the work and kill the project in its infancy, but a great match would take the project to a whole new level and increase the chances of success. That would be heaven indeed.

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