Why edit?

Here’s to editors!

I know a lot of writers who would rather have their gums scraped than have an editor touch their work. To them, it’s a violation. While I respect my writer friends’ opinion, I tend to go with the old saying. “Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one. They all stink – except for yours.”

Personally, I think editors are like magicians. They take a freshly laid pile of words and stare at it for a while, letting their minds chug around, and then voilà. Not only do they understand what we are trying to say, but their intuition tells them better ways to say it – words, passages, and even different ideas and approaches. They perform their magic in mysterious ways, eerie smoke and lots of mirrors.

My own editor, Jayne Southern, is the Queen Mab of editors. She hands out a direction and not only knows when my words are wrong but gives me lists of substitutions that are more spot on than some of my own. There is also the occasional quips she leaves. They can be genius in their own right.

I would like to be able to hear what is said when several editors meet, perhaps at an editor convention. Do they brag about how they saved the up and coming Hemingway from certain oblivion by expert editing? Or, do they tell about the writer who needed less editing? Which is the road less traveled?

Then there are the stereotypes like in the movies. They always have the editor balding perhaps with a comb-over. his sleeves are rolled up, smoking a cigar (at least chewing on it), and throwing paper over his shoulder like a maniac. All the while he is demonstrating why he could teach advanced cussing to a sailor. Then there is the picture I believe the image editors want you to believe is a woman (sometimes a man) dressed in tasteful yet casual attire, hair brushed to perfection and reading the piece while sipping a lovely Bordeaux. They are absently clicking the mouse and laughing politely to themselves at the gigantic mistakes we make and thinking about what buffoonery their writers happen to be trying to pass off as skilled writing.

The reality may, in fact, be quite different. They work from home very casually dressed (maybe in their robe or perhaps in their skivvies)while sipping strong coffee, and pushing their morning hair out of their face. Behind them and interrupting at an unbelievable rate are the rest of the family, whether it be the spouse or significant other, kids, dogs, cats, etcetera. All of them having a crisis, and in all the world only the editor can find, fix, or put together. Amidst all this confusion, the editor has to deal with our manuscripts. That last part they have down.

I’m sure they have very thick skins. That is metaphorical thick, not actual thick. I guess they could have actual thick skin, but they don’t need that, they need the metaphorical kind. They need this because writers are temperamental and can spring forth with an unbelievable barrage of words directed at them. This is an occupational hazard as writers tend to be verbose by nature. However, we writers often forget editors also to have a large vocabulary.

So, when we fire off a snappy little comment about how the editor is displaying a ‘condition of cranial rectumosis,’ the editor might comeback with ‘get your own head out of your ass and work.’ Or we might politely begin an exchange like ‘you turd’ only to be shut down with a quirky little phrase like ‘My … what a shitty potty mouth you have.’

Now I would never do anything like that with my editor. I’m simply talking about the behavior of some of my friends and acquittances. I don’t need to resort to tactics like this at all. I understand, that she understands, what I mean in my Works In Progress, even to the point of her suggesting a correction to my words with one slightly better – and that suggestion often turns out to be a monumental upgrade.

As I said above. What they do is a mystery to me. They pull things out of nowhere, nearest I can figure is, they pull it out of their brain. Yeah, you heard me. They reach right in and POW! They know exactly what to do. Such poise. Such panache. And talk about understanding the underlying meaning of every nuance. Holy shit.

That’s a huge difference from what I do. I sit quietly with my computer in front of me and try to think through all of the rackets in the house. Then I break up a few innocuous battles between the kids before there are any bones showing, or blood spurting. After that, I usually have to make sure the babies have their milk or watered down juice. More refereeing. Then I pull something out of my ass and start typing – no thinking involved – just put something down and start some kind of story, or continuation of a story. Woo Hoo! Fingers flying over the page until I have written the first sentence.

Now is when the skull sweating begins. Second guessing raises his stupefying shadow, and that’s petrifying. Is this going to make sense? Does this present the proper tone, the right amount of tension? How about drive, does it push the reader on to the next sentence? Yes, it does! All right.

Go to the next sentence, the next paragraph, and keep going. Keep thinking and writing. Before long the pages come together and the story appears. It is complex, with great storytelling, wonderful suspense, and a thrill to read.

Then I send it to Jayne and she works on it. (See above)

Turns out the whole thing is symbiotic. The finished product, I mean the polished product that readers love and cherish is a production in which several people have had their fingers. We do it together. At this point, I take a little target practice and draw a bead on the bull’s eye. But the lights go out just before I zero my sights in on the target, and that’s what it really is. It’s a shot in the dark. All we can do is our best.

What I do know is this. If I don’t send my projects to my editor they are not near as good as when I do.

Thanks, Jayne

By the way. Have you heard my new book The Great Zero Sum Balance will be out soon? It’s a good, tense, read, and quick too, all the way to the last explosion. More information soon to come.

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