Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Art and Science of Editing

Writers. Your best friend is your editor.

The members of your writing group and your beta readers can be great assets, nudging you toward the type of material you were meant to create and, sometimes, painfully, letting you know it’s time to move on from a piece that isn’t working.

Mike Babcock

But whether we writers want to admit it, we are competitors. Pretend you are a hockey player for a moment, and imagine your fellow writers as team members. You all want to win the game together, but that doesn’t mean they are okay riding the bench while you get all the ice time. What player ever fantasized that someone else scores the big overtime goal?

When our fellow writers read their pages in a critique group, or when we are asked to beta read a story, a big part of us wants to provide support, encouragement, and guidance. Meanwhile, a deeper, more concealed, far less secure part is busy comparing ourselves. Am I as good as this writer? Am I better? Would I have written it that way? If I slam this piece in front of everyone, will I feel a bit too much sadistic pleasure?

Your editor lacks something your writer friends carry into every writing-related interaction with you: An agenda. Or maybe I should say you and your editor share one agenda. Your success.

Ideally, your editor also has experience and fluid intelligence, since these tools are essential to the science and the art of the editing craft.

I’m going to get the “science” out of the way first. The science of editing, of course, deals with grammar, punctuation, syntax, and language mechanics. A good, experienced editor can spot the extraneous words, dangling modifiers, and parallel-construction errors you passed over a dozen times in revisions. Your editor can also see story logic problems and help fix them by moving a paragraph or sentence up or down the page.

When your editor makes such corrections, it does not mean she understands writing better than you do or that you are not good enough. Every writer makes mistakes. Your editor makes those sorts of mistakes in her own writing, which is why we all need an editor. Writing is hard.

As an editor, the art of editing is the aspect that intrigues me the most. The art entails appreciating and respecting the writer’s voice, embracing the poetry in his words, understanding the rhythm and flow of his prose, and, for lack of a better term, “getting it.” A good editor can see the aesthetic quality in a manuscript, and her edits only remove that which obscures the writer’s vision.

A good editor does not try to change your vision or trample your voice. If your editor is caught up in rules and cannot see the words for the letters, get a new editor. If you write noir and your editor does not understand noir, get a new editor. If your editor tries to take over your manuscript and make it read as if she wrote it, get a new editor.

If your editor is smart and makes suggestions that sometimes sting but that you know, deep down, to be true, listen. A good editor is your most trusted advisor.

In our hockey metaphor above, your editor is the coach. She never gets to leave the bench. She wants all of her writers to score the overtime goal, because no matter who scores that goal, she wins.

You.

You.

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I hate onions

You know what I love? Grapes. All kinds of grapes. Purple grapes. Green grapes. I love grapes in bunches, one at a time, or in groups of twos and threes.  On the other hand...

You know what I love? Grapes. All kinds of grapes. Purple grapes. Green grapes. I love grapes in bunches, one at a time, or in groups of twos and threes.
On the other hand…

I hate onions. I hate them raw. I hate them cooked. I hate their “flavor” (as if horror were a flavor) and the way they crunch and the way the horror explodes in my mouth and won’t ever leave. I hate them fried. I hate them caramelized. How is caramelized even a thing?

I hate onions.

Why does everyone insist on putting onions in my food? I never said I wanted onions. Stop making assumptions.

The food people put them on my burgers and sandwiches. They put them in my salads, including potato. I’m glad my soda has a lid.

To me, this is the same as blowing cigarette smoke in my face and then saying, “Oh, I assumed you wanted smoke in your face.”

This week was the last (onion) straw. I bought cranberry-almond chicken salad at Costco. What I got was ONION chicken salad, with chaser lights. Big-ass chunks of diced, crunchy, unbridled, sociopathic onion. I cannot taste the chicken, the almonds, or the cranberries.

If I want onions (which I never would), I’ll ask.

People use the “layers of an onion” metaphor to describe people and things that are full of surprises and mystery. Why? Every layer of an onion is exactly the same as the one above and below it: Nasty.

If I were dictator of the world, I’d be benevolent. Free tacos on Sunday and all that. But, I’m sorry; no freakin’ onions. If you want onions, visit Onion Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the only place I permit them to grow. Don’t think about smuggling one out, either. Your punishment will be legendary!

Pray I never become dictator, onions.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog reading.

I feel about onions the way this poster promoting the 1897 horror comedy "Psychos in Love" feels about grapes. It takes all kinds!

I feel about onions the way this poster promoting the 1897 horror comedy “Psychos in Love” feels about grapes. It takes all kinds!