02 June 2012

Every writer needs an editor

I am no exception. Last week I finished a draft of a novella. By the time I was done writing and had gone back to edit for consistency, I could no longer see what I'd written. I was too familiar with the characters and story, too familiar with what I wanted to say; I saw my intentions rather than what was actually there...and what wasn't.

I needed feedback on what made sense and what didn't. Where people lost interest and where they were swept along. What was eye-rollingly cheesy and what was beautiful and original. I needed help identifying the aspects of the manuscript that were falling short of my vision, and I needed help figuring out how I could strengthen them. I needed readers, and I needed editors.

There is a useful distinction between "readers" and "editors" when you get to this point in writing. Both can tell you whether or not they like what you wrote overall. Good readers can also point to specific moments in your writing that they liked or didn't like.

But an editor can not only tell you what they liked or didn't like; they can articulate why. And they can give you suggestions for how to strengthen the parts that don't seem to be working that well. And they can tell the difference between what's not working and what just doesn't resonate with them on a personal level. And they can appreciate what you're doing even if they don't particularly like it. And most important of all, they can help you figure out how to do what you're doing better, even if they don't like what you want to do.

Every writer needs an editor because it's not enough to know what people like and what they don't. We need to know whether they didn't like it because it was poorly executed or whether it's because, despite being well-executed, they disagreed with what you were trying to do. We also benefit from having a thinking partner--someone who can help us solve the problems in the writing.

I am fortunate to have several people in my life who were willing to read that first draft of the novella and give me feedback. And I chose the ones I did because I knew they would give me a range of feedback.

Some are purely readers: they can tell me what stuck out as something they liked or didn't like, but it's hard for them to articulate why. Even so, their feedback is valuable; in getting several different readers' perspectives I can begin to discern patterns in what bothers people (parts to revise) and what sticks with them in a good way (parts to be sure to keep).

Others are developmental editors. They can help me identify why some things aren't working and why others do, and they give me specific suggestions on how to make the novella stronger...even if my vision for the story or the genre I've chosen isn't their cup of tea.

Some are best at copy editing. Their feedback helps me correct the technical errors: typos and misspellings and strange sentence constructions.

Still others are so biased in my favor that they can't do anything but tell me how much they loved it. Their feedback is essential: it keeps me from giving up on my writing completely when the task of revision seems insurmountable.

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