Friday, October 25, 2013

When the Shoe is on the Other Foot: An Editor Speaks

Photo by Holaday98, used with attribution, cc license

Please give a warm welcome to the inimitable Rebecca (RJ) Blain, the unfortunate victim wonderful developmental editor I hired to help me transform one of my trunk novels into something readable. I've blogged about it from my perspective here and here, as well as on many agonized status updates on G+.

Well, fair is fair, and I've invited Rebecca to tell us her side of the story. I had long suspected I was not an *easy* client to work with and Rebecca certainly confirmed that. But she (and I) seemed to survive the process. I know my writing is far better for it.

So without further ado, I give you RJ Blain:

Working with Lisa

When I recently asked Google+ if anyone was interested in me writing a guest post for them, Lisa Cohen grabbed her Red Sox cap, stuffed it on her head, cocked the brim to the side, and came up to bat. I had just finished writing a post about one of my other clients, and she had read it.

She wanted to know what it was like working with her, from an editorial perspective. She’s written about my experiences working with her several times, usually painting me as an evil dentist or a construction worker who has gone on some sort of terrible rampage. I find this sort of thing hilarious, and she knows it.

My name is RJ Blain, and I have survived editing for Lisa Cohen. I should have this made into a t-shirt.

Every writer is different, and most of the time, Lisa is a gem to work with. She’s normally patient. She’s normally laid back. She’s normally eager and willing to take a machete to her words. She works hard. She expects me to work hard, and is understanding of the fact that working hard sometimes means working longer and harder to get a job done.

She asked me not long after I had finished combing through her manuscript how many hours I had spent working on her novel. It’s a pretty common question among my editing clients. My go-to answer is that it, on average, takes me 80 hours to completely work through a novel. This counts the first editing run, the second read through and editing run, the time it takes me to email with clients, the time I spend hooing and humming as I edit, and the time I invest talking with them over IM to help them hammer out plot problems and the kin.

After doing some math, I figure Lisa’s edits were in the ballpark of 120 hours.

Lisa is normally a lot of things, but when it comes to her writing, she can be exceptionally stubborn. This isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes, I had to buckle up and be extremely patient as she worked her way through the thought process.

Writers often need to come to their conclusions on their own. No matter how often I explain something, if the writer doesn’t follow the line of logic and come to the conclusion I came to with, they won’t take my suggestions seriously. If I force it down their throats, they won’t take it seriously. It’s a hard line to toe, but if I manage it, I get to watch, first hand, how much a novel can improve.

Lisa is stubborn. In the grand scheme of clients, she’s one of the most stubborn I’ve worked with. She goes in with a set vision, and things that go outside of that vision need a great deal of thought – and explanation from me.

And a patient ear as she works out her frustrations when things she thought were strong could be made a lot stronger, and so on.

One thing I really liked about working with Lisa was her openness to talk about the editing process from her perspective. A lot of writers go into editing without really knowing what to expect. This can lead to some unpleasant surprises. Many writers don’t understand that different types of editors have different strengths. Some writers don’t understand that it can sometimes take two, three, or maybe even more editors to make a novel really strong. I’m not a copy or proofing editor. When I do my developmental editing work, I do pick apart an author’s writing style as I make suggestions on how to improve their use of language. Unlike a copy or proofing editor, I don’t adhere to a single style guide. My focus is more on reader impact than style guide perfection.

In a way, I think Lisa got more than she bargained for, when I blended the character and plot development work with stylistic suggestions and improvements.

It’s a lot to digest. And, I think, because Lisa is inherently stubborn, she was able to bite off more than she could chew without choking on it.

Writing a novel is easy. Any person who has basic control of language can sit down and write a book. Editing, however, is hard work.

Working with Lisa was a pleasure, because she understood that from the very beginning. I didn’t have to try to teach her that fundamental lesson, which meant I could focus on my work without her becoming too overwhelmed by the amount of work I was throwing her way.

Lisa likes to say I really helped her improve her writing. That’s not true. She helped herself improve her writing. I just gave her a road map and some directions.

All I did was point out the weaknesses and flaws while also giving her tips and tricks to overcome them.

She was the one who did all of the work.

Aww, shucks, ma'am. . .  Thank you, Rebecca! I'm glad I didn't break your brain during our wranglings. :) As I've said before, working this way with an editor isn't for every writer. A good developmental editor (and Rebecca is very, very good) will challenge all your assumptions in the way a smart-ass two year old will, with her incessant 'why's. While you may be tempted to resort to the 'because I'm the author, that's why!', in the end that answer works as poorly for your novel as for your toddler. If you're willing to challenge yourself and your own writing and are able to leave your ego at the door, then I highly recommend this process. You will reap benefits far beyond the particular manuscript you offer up for editing.

No comments:

Post a Comment