Friday, October 28, 2011

The Process of Editing

Wednesday Heather wrote a great article Don’t Edit the Heart Out. If you haven’t read it yet, this is a must read. So how do we edit while guarding our heart?

Heather got me thinking about the art of editing. There are a few things I know as truth:

1.     We cannot see our own mistakes.
2.     We must continue to read our book until we find zero mistakes.

But wait! If we can’t see our own mistakes, and we have to read until we see none… we may be lulled into bringing our book to market, or querying, too soon. What should we do?

The solution is to find readers who will take the time to read with detail. But what if those readers find things other than grammar or spelling errors? What if they find plot points that didn’t work? Vocabulary that felt wrong. Were confused because of something the protagonist said in chapter one, but didn’t fall through in chapter 40. What do we do? Listen? Change? Ignore in fear of losing our voice?

I thought my book was strong. I thought I had it nailed. And then Bill Bernhardt read it and told me he saw a problem with believability. He said, “I don’t know how you’ll fix it, but I know you can.” He also said my protagonist came across as weak and another character was whiny. But I was trying to give them a way to grow! He said I preached in some areas. But those points needed to be told!

I heard the hard facts of my book from this reader, and then I spent a month thinking about it without touching anything. I happened to be babysitting my 8 month old grandson at the time, and we sat on the floor and played. I rocked, fed, we walked… but all the while my mind was focused on “how to” fix my book. Thirty-three days later, I sat down and fixed it.

I had another reader edit it. She was confused on some things I’d written because she didn’t understand how the 757 worked. But that made me think. I need to be able to write so all readers understand. That is my job as a writer. She found some grammar problems. But I also learned with this reader that her editing of language made the conversations too formal and felt false... I didn’t use those comments. 

Multiple reads, edits and re-reads by me and my husband. 

Then Bill read it again and loved it, and found nothing. But he was reading for the believability, the plot points and the characters. I had fixed them all. But… I needed another read, just to be sure.

Then I had a pilot reader edit it, and he found a dozen typos, or wrong words. Good catches.

Then I had another reader edit, and she found some major issues. Why didn’t my protagonist have an emotional breakdown? Where did Bill get the drugs? I thought that the doctor was part of this. Did you know you said the exact same thing two pages before? I think that protagonist would have done this, or that. Many word choice suggestions, grammar issues, and a couple spelling errors—obviously a much better editor than the guys for the emotions, and technical points.

Wow. I was excited. But during this process I found it fascinating what the variety of readers picked up and why. Mostly, I respected each and every comment. And I listened to each comment along the process.

Did I change something just because someone said to? No.

What I did was to ask myself, “Why did the reader feel that way?”

Communication is a two way street. If the listener (or reader) isn’t getting our message, then we’re not communicating properly. We need to have the skills to write well enough to make the readers want to keep reading. We need to respect what they didn’t like. That doesn’t mean they know how to fix it—a key point. But they are not wrong when they say something didn’t work.

That doesn’t mean your editor knows how to fix the problem, they just know it’s there.

Trust your readers to know there is a problem. But don’t necessarily trust they know “how to” fix it for you. So when they see a problem and make a suggestion, that’s great.The problem identification should be an eye opener—the suggestion should get you thinking about how to solve the problem yourself. 

They may have some good ideas, but they may not be the right ideas for you and your story. This is how to use your editor while keeping the voice and story your own.

I commented to my last reader for “beating up” my story. In my world… that is a good thing! What I meant by the “beat up” was a compliment for taking the time to read it so thoroughly. I want honest feedback. When you find someone who takes the time and provides such detailed thoughts— it’s priceless. I also know that taking time to think about why and what they said is the best thing you can do for your book, before you make the changes.

My heartfelt gratitude goes out to those who have read my book and have been truthful in their feelings and perceptions. I want to know what they think. Not hear the good stuff—challenge me to make it better. When my book hits the shelf, I know there will be more people who feel the exact same way the readers did.

I want my story to be my own. But I also want my story to be read. We can have both.

What is your experience with editing? Do you have a process you use? How do you keep your voice and trust your editors at the same time?

Enjoy the Journey!

XOX Karlene


  1. This is a great explanation of a writer communicating and taking in what a beta reader finds. It is touch and go, sometimes. You have to step back and evaluate what a reader is telling you and see if and where it truly applies to you. I know I've had a lot of trouble shifting through that sort of thing. Getting better at it, though. I'm so happy that you worked through it!

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience! I think it is very helpful to see how others deal with beta's comments. It isn't wise to blindly change everything, but listening and understanding where it's coming from is essential.

  3. What a great post, Karlene! Every day I spend writing shows me again that the writing life is a process more than anything else, and wow, is that ever true in the editing stage. I'm there now--my ms. has been through workshopping, revisions, critique sisters :-)), more revisions, a fabulous professional editor, and is now with two readers whom I trust to 'beat it up', in a way that may help me make it soar. I'm so excited!

  4. Your method was perfect. We time to "ingest" a reader's comments BEFORE we edit. If you run - like me - to make changes right away, you don't have time to decide whether or not they are the correct changes for your story. Every reader's opinion has value, but we are not going to make every reader happy. It's important to look at the feedback objectively and decide what to use and when to say "Thanks, but not for me".

  5. Thank you Salarsen. I think what really helps me is to turn the thought of "you don't like my work" to "why did they think that?" We get better answers if we ask the right questions. Thanks so much for your comment.

  6. Thank you Janet. That is the key. Listening and understanding. Understanding is huge for me, so it really helps if my read will allow me to question and dig deep as to why they felt the way they did. I learn so much. The more I learn, the more I can work with. Thank you so much for your comment!

  7. Thank you Linda! Editing isn't an event... but a processes. It's not to be taken as critical, but helpful. Maybe it's about being grateful if someone feeds your starving child, than allowing pride to make it be something it isn't. Thank you so much for your help. You made all the difference!

  8. Thanks Tina, That is so true. I had a comment about something that a reader wanted to know that I omitted in my book. But I thought... nope, that is not important enough to waste the time writing the back story. I made the choice that I didn't think it was necessary. So we do need to pay attention to those things.
    And taking time to think is so important. Thank you so much for the great comment!

  9. You're so welcome Karlene. (I'm blushing.) It was truly my pleasure.

  10. I have 5 beta readers and 3 critique partners who keep me on my toes. My general rule of thumb is, if the same issue comes up while they're reading, then there's obviously something wrong and I need to change it. However, I have been known to fight tooth and nail for what I want to keep. It is my book after all.

    And like you, I do take my time to mull over all advice. I usally do yardwork at the same time. I think the physical activity helps for some reason.

    Great post. Thanks.

  11. FANTASTIC post!!!!

  12. Anne, having the 3 rule is great. When I had one editor tell me something that I didn't feel was a problem, I called the others who had read it too and asked them what they thought. This opens a lot of dialogue. Yard work is great too! I do that as well. Outside, in the dirt, the elements, mindless work to all your mind to wander, plot and plunder. Thanks for the comment!

  13. Our shining diamond... Thank YOU! Your words mean a great deal to me.