I am almost finished a short, short story of 1,440 words. I plan on submitting it to Canada Writes. As usual, I sought help from beta readers. For the first time, I solicited help from an editor.
Editors. Impressive species. They remind me of sandhill cranes — drab, erect, self-aggrandizing, and uber-pedantic. An editor would slash the previous sentence five ways from Sunday. Mine would anyway.
He is a copy editor for a newspaper. He is not schooled in the discipline but is a natural. He is the same age as my oldest daughter. He was born without fear. He is clear-sighted, has a perfect ear for prose, and he is expert at riding the conflict fence. Not only does he tell me what he is really thinking, but he makes me feel good about it. He is also in one of my writing groups, we share social time together over coffee or scotch, I am in his book club, and I call him a friend. Even more dangerous. Only a good editor could edit a friend’s fiction and remain friends. *I’d say the same about the writer, but I have my doubts about him.
What baffles me is how they do it. I mean, I have worked on this piece since early September, have let close to a dozen people read it and give me feedback — see a previous post — and I have scoured over it almost daily. I have taken a couple of short breaks. I have also read up on self-editing. Fred Stenson’s “Things Feigned Or Imagined” has a couple of great sections on self-editing, and I’ve read every article posted by Writer’s Digest or K.M. Weiland. Yet the stuff my editor sends back to me baffles me. Not the content; that’s exquisite. I mean how he was able to discern trouble.
I had the following two sentences.
He staggers to the kitchen, yanks open the fridge door, and grabs another beer. He punches the tab and the drinking hole stares back at him, the empty, steely eye of his beer can.
He thought these verbs were too strong for where they were in the story. He felt the rise in action broke the tension prematurely. I read it and the rest of the section. He was right. What baffles me is I knew he was right all along. I knew these verbs were wrong and subtracted from my later explosions. I had felt it many times, but I did not recognize my feelings. He found other places where I distracted the reader, spend too much energy on getting points across, used wasted, superfluous adjectives. He messaged an answer to one of my challenges that he had read the sentence five times. He said that he follows the rule if he has to read something more than once, there is a problem and it’s his job to root it out.
That’s what I fail at, stopping. I let my uneasiness be passed over. I don’t stop and smell the flowers, or stinkweed. Again, I know this. I think I have acknowledged this before on this blog. And I don’t know how to train myself to stop, or if it is even a good thing.
Seriously, is it good to be able to stop and smell the flowers? Is it good to be able to read your most subtle reaction, stop, analyze them, and investigate the source of their being? It is for an editor, but is it for the writer? Once I learn, can I ever lock the editor out of the room? Don’t I need him to take a vacation while I write?
I often stray when I write. I step sideways, and backward, and sideways the other side, and even forward. I explore character and plot when I write, all while trying to keep to an objective of story, character, and scene. If I let my editor question everything I write, I wonder if much of what I write would never find the surface of the page?
I worry too much. Yet I worry, and worry is good. I hope.
If you have techniques for making yourself aware of issues in your prose, please tell me. Suggestions like my editor’s — if you have to read it twice, there is a problem. That will now stick to me until I die, but there have to be more of these techniques. These little mental reminders. Filters I can turn on and off as needed.
Oh, and I am extremely happy with my story as it stands. I think it has chances. If not this contest then in a literary journal. I think the story is ready. I just hope the jury is up for being slammed upside the head.
Thank you my editor and editors everywhere.
I wish I had a natural talent for editing! It’s often after the 20th read, I’ve realized that I have a pet word in the story. I don’t like over-using descriptive words, so once I notice it, I have to then go through and tear apart my story. I also like to read my stories out loud. I find that if I stumble over a sentence while speaking it, then it’s either too wordy or my word combinations don’t work well together.
Thankfully, I’ve found a couple people that are willing to shred my writing when I need it, but I try not to abuse that by having them read everything 🙂