Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Concerning Editing

So, this week was Critique Week in my Writing for Young Adults class, and once again I was reminded of why editing is such a pain. In this post we'll address some of the difficulties of editing, but before I do, here's a picture that sums up editing. Whether it's serious or sarcastic is beyond me.


So, that being said, here we go.

1. Love/Hate.

One step between love and hate wallpaper

This is one of the biggest ones. It's where some reviewers love what you wrote, while others hates it. In my Writing for YA class (henceforth abbreviated as WFYA), I received mixed reactions on my main character, ranging from adoration to absolute dislike. The same thing will happen with structures in your book, where someone doesn't like this or that but another person thinks it's great; or someone totally doesn't get what you were going for and rips it while someone else absolutely understands what you were aiming for and thinks you did a great job. 

This brings up one of the biggest problems in editing: it's subjective. And when you have people who disagree over what does and doesn't work in a story, it's not helpful, because you don't know who to listen to (we assume that your editors are of equal level in editing expertise. If not, then you should obviously be listening to the editing authority and not the other guy). As far as this goes, the only advice I have is to take the counsel of detractors and supporters both, weigh them carefully, and do your best. 

And no matter what other people say, never deform your story so much that you can't recognize what you started with, or so that it's impossible to work with after. If you do that, you'll obviously never finish the book, which defeats the entire point of editing.

2. Editors Who Skim

This one is usually pretty obvious. I got back a couple of edited chapters where my main character spent a paragraph explicitly explaining why she was taking a taxi. On the next page I see scribbled in the margins:

"Why is she taking a cab?"

When I saw that, I was a little like this:

Did you even read the manuscript, or were you on Aladdin's carpet the entire time? (Whenever I think of skimming text, I think of Aladdin's magical flying carpet. I don't quite know why.) I spent an entire paragraph explaining why my main character didn't have a ride, and it was quite clear that she was taking the cab. It wasn't a hidden reference or a vague language; the main character was taking the cab. Period. The editor in question was obviously skimming, or didn't read the manuscript at all.

What it comes down to is that skimming and editing don't go together. You can't skim and edit. As a result of that little snafu, I tossed the edited copy of the manuscript I got back from that editor because any credibility she had disappeared when she asked a question that had been answered in detail the page before.

3. Reserving the Right to Creative Integrity

The above title is basically code for "screw you, I'll do what I want with my story". Generally this is a bad approach to take towards writing a novel, and there are writers out there who are like that and believe they can do no wrong. But as far as I've been able to tell, most writers, myself included, are reasonable people who, like anyone else, hurt when you tell them that something they've labored long and hard over needs to be changed. For the sake of their craft, they will bear the pain and change what needs to be changed.

However, some of them get caught up and do this a bit too hastily. In the rush to please those who think something should be different, they don't stop to consider the integrity of their story, or look at the criticism objectively.

This goes back in part to the Love/Hate section. Writers, while taking advice, also need to remember that editors are subjective, and not all of their suggestions will necessarily make your story better. In any editing session, a writer needs to remember the core of their story and build around it, not through it. If, in editing, there comes a point when you cannot recognize your story, you need to stop, slap someone for pushing you off the path, get a notepad and a slushee, and spend a day down at the beach getting back in touch with your story.

In Conclusion

In short: editing is great and all. It's the refining process. But an editor is one person out of 7 billion (as of this writing). Listen to editors - but don't turn your story into a monster for their sake. Everybody wants something different; some people will hate your book and some people will love it, and these people will likely never change. At worst, you're doing better than Fifty Shades of Grey, which started out as Twilight fanporn and still managed to become an international success, despite minimal (if any) editing at all.

Cause really, that's all it is. Also, no one argues with Morpheus.

Post Script

Additionally, some editors are just dead wrong on certain things, and they can drive whatever it is that they drive off a cliff if they don't agree with me. I may be all of nineteen years old and still in college, but book writing is subjective and there is no universally accepted authority on it. Whatever works works, and if you tell me I'm wrong about something I know I'm not wrong about, I'm going to ignore you. Tell it to me again and you're going to be dealing with this:

Evil Cat Image

Post Post Script

If I cannot cipher what you wrote on my manuscript, I'm throwing your edit in the trash. Between school, papers, work, writing, and life, I just don't have the time to be a flipping codebreaker.


  1. Editing is a crazy business, I tell you. I still remember those horrid days of peer reviews back in my college days. Some people are just not cut out to help others make their stories better. My biggest advice is to research your editor. Choose an editor who’ve you’ve read a book from, or seen their work in a similar genre. An editor is definitely not a “one size fits all” type of deal.

  2. Wait . . . you mean to tell me that when someone asks me to beta read their manuscript, I'm ACTUALLY supposed to read the whole thing and not skim? Whoa! I knew I was doing something wrong. (Haha okay, I joke)

    Awesome post though. Very helpful advice. I am having a hard time sticking to the original story with everyone telling me to change everything.

    But I will not change the story because then it won't be MY story.