Monday, April 2, 2012

Editing Paths Less Traveled

I promised to update you on the editing process for Paths Less Traveled, which is my short story collection coming from Musa Publishing on May 11, 2012. So, this is your first update. The collection currently has a story I wrote over 10 years ago (Lightning Strikes) and one I wrote last year (Flashes of Life). We might be adding a third story too. It’s probably not surprising that Lightning Strikes needed more work than Flashes of Life. It was interesting to see how these two stories showed my development as a writer. Flashes of Life was, generally, clearer and definitely provoked fewer comments from Jen, my editor at Musa. The contrast also put the million word paradigm into affect because I wrote at least 1 million words between those two stories.

The editing process is alien. Writing is a deeply personal and individual process. Editing is collaborative. Some of us have trouble making the transition. Fortunately, over my fifteen years as a lawyer, I've had thousands of documents edited - by partners, by clients, and other lawyers. I don’t react hostility (most of the time, I am still only human) to suggested changes. When I do, I use a 24 hour rule. In other words, time permitting, I wait 24 hours, read the comments again and then consider whether they changes help or harm what I’m trying to do. If they help, I use them. For Paths, no cooling off was required. I agreed with Jen’s comments, and only had a few questions.

First, props for my editor. Her suggestions were clear and I could see how the stories benefitted from her proposed changes. While she caught typos and other grammatical errors I’d missed, she also flagged story issues. Description and internal contemplations are weaknesses in my writing. As a reader I’d rather broad strokes for setting, and characters that don't take twenty pages to make a fire because they wonder what kind of wood would be best. The reason I call this reading preference a writing weakness is that they make it harder to engage a reader. Jen pointed out a number of places where I could add a line or two to enhance the story. As an example, Vonna, the main character in Flashes, sees emotion as a color swirling around a person’s aura. Jen pointed out that if this was part of Vonna’s makeup, she’d notice their colors as naturally as we breathe. She’s right. The first round of edits had me adding in this detail more often, which makes the world Vonna lives in richer.

I love writing dialog. I’m a big fan of the idea that the words should convey the emotion and, for the most part, the only dialog tag you need is “said.” Apparently, I've reached the point of obsession. The word “said” isn’t invisible when you use it 62 times in 37 pages. The fact that Jen actually counted was bad. The “invisible” word was a distraction. Again, that “error” is something we worked on fixing in the first round of edits.

The best thing about professional editing, in general, and Jen, in particular, is that she sees where I’ve left out necessary information because I know my story too well. This aspect of the editing process was invaluable. It is also why having the right type of editor is important. A technical editor will be looking for different issues than a genre editor in your genre. A technical editor may, in fact, harm your storytelling. He’s looking for conciseness and might change “voice” and the story as a result. The genre editor will help you stand out in the genre.

Here’s the bottom line for me: Jen’s comments and feedback help me make my stories more compelling. In the process, I’m becoming a better writer. She’s helping me refine my voice, not changing it. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to her, and Musa. Editing may be a pain, but I enjoy going through the process with Jen. We're almost done (I think). To date, Jen has sent me two revision drafts and I just sent the second revision back to her. Once we’re (note the plural there) done with the editing process, I'll post a section from Lightning Strikes as originally written more than 10 years ago, as cleaned up about four years ago, and through the editing process so you can see Jen's helped me bring out the story without changing it. After all, that's the goal. Right?


Cordelia Dinsmore said...

Nancy - thanks for sharing your editing experience. I just finished my first round of edits with my Musa editor, and it terrified me at first. But once I worked through it, I realized that most of her changes and suggestions were things I had wondered about all along. And, for the record, I lost a lot of 'said' tags, too. But that was what I needed to do. I am already excited about getting my ms. back to see what else she has in store for me.

It's nice to know someone who is at the same stage I'm at on my current work. I hope all your edits go smoothly, and that you'll keep us posted on updates.

Helen Hardt said...

Great post! As a writer and an editor, I've always found the editing process enjoyable from both sides.

Nancy DiMauro said...

I was definately dreading the process but Jen made it wonderful. I think most writer's are more afraid of what they think the process will be rather than what it really is. Thanks for the thoughts Helen.

@ Cordelia - I'm glad to hear I wasn't the only one to over use the invisible word "said." Hope your edits go smoothly as well.

Paul Stansfield said...

Not to be a broken record, but my experiences with editing at Musa were very similar. Going in, I was very nervous also--I had nightmarish visions of hearing something like "Vampires are hot right now, can you change your zombies to them?" or "The story needs some heat--how about a major romantic subplot?" or other changes that would have destroyed what I wanted my story to be about.

Fortunately my worries were groundless. My editor, Pat Sager, was great. The changes she suggested helped make my story smoother, and more understandable. She also helped me recognize that I tend to start sentences with "And" too much. All in all, the process couldn't have been better.

I'm forced to conclude that Musa hires talented editors. Glad to hear that your experiences were postive too. Good luck with your book.

Sloane Taylor said...

Liz Silver edited my first book with Musa. Not only does Liz know what she's doing, she has a great sense of humor while doing it.:) IMHO, Musa editors are talented professionals and I'm grateful.

Mindy Hardwick said...

Great post on your editing experience at Musa! My wonderful Musa editor, Jenn Loring, also had me removing many "said" tags and looking for my "favorite" overused words: point and said. I enjoyed working with Jenn on Stained Glass Summer because she didn't try to change my manuscript or writing voice--she just helped polish and shine the story. Loved it!

_ said...

Cathy is a saint.
Emma Lane said...

coreen montagna helped me a lot! musa takes care of its authors! thank you, musa!

Dusty Crabtree said...

I had an amazing experience at Musa with my editor too! Meredith MacLeod was amazing! She was always so tactful with any changes or helpful hints which always took that section to a whole new level than I would have imagined. She also put wonderful good comments on things she liked. It was always like Christmas when I opened a new section to see what she had written. :)