Thursday, October 28, 2010

E-D-I-T Is A Four-Letter Word

I’ve been knee-deep in edits the last few months and frustrated at my lack of time to indulge in my first love – SOTP (seat of the pants) novel writing. I miss the creativity of sitting at the computer and seeing where the Lord, and my imagination, lead. I must state upfront that I understand how crucial editing is, but it doesn’t mean I have to like or enjoy it. It’s not the bane of my existence, but pretty close to it.

You’ll probably agree that a writer has to be his or her own best editor in a number of respects. Now, more than ever, we need to present the cleanest, best manuscript we can, free of grammatical mistakes and those dreaded “beginner” errors - right from the start. Otherwise, we face almost certain rejection. The exception to the rule might be a story so compelling that an agent or editor will be able to see the inherent value and send the writer a contract.

It took joining ACFW and studying published novels in my genre to learn the distinctions between mediocre writing and truly distinctive, publishable work. Not that I’ve mastered it now, by any means, but I cringe when I go back to those earlier manuscripts (written as recently as late 2008 and early 2009). You want to talk about run-on sentences, excessive line attributions, adverbs... I broke so many of the no-telling, POV shift, head-hopping and other so-called “rules,” that I’m glad I’m stubborn and persistent, or I might have ditched it all and called it a day on my writing career.

When I initially submitted the manuscript for Awakening to Torn Veil Books, I thought it was in publishable shape. Was I ever wrong! I originally wrote that manuscript more than 10 years ago. The storyline is strong with good characters and plot development…it has all the elements. Remember when I mentioned the exception to the rule two paragraphs ago? Well, Awakening is that type of manuscript. I’m convinced Torn Veil sent me a contract based on the strength of the story itself because it certainly wasn’t for my editing ability.

I sent it to Torn Veil in late January 2009, only a few months after joining ACFW. They were the first entity (agent or publisher) to request the full manuscript. Based on what I learned in a short span of time in ACFW, I was mortified at all the mistakes and shot off an e-mail to the publisher and told them I had become aware of a few POV issues and overuse of adverbs and would work hard to correct those errors. The publisher wrote back, saying she was reading the manuscript for “the story” at that point, but if any manuscript contained too many errors, she would simply pass. The next I heard from them was when I received my contract on the first of May.

That's when the fun began. I went over it...and over it...with the proverbial fine-tooth comb. After I submitted my edits to Torn Veil's editor, she made the comment that it was one of the best self-edited manuscripts she'd ever seen. High praise indeed, especially from an editor. It was hard work, but totally worth it. Sometimes it's also a mixed blessing to be somewhat of a perfectionist. We need to remember that our book is a reflection of our work, but also reflects on our publisher and editor. Ultimately, we want to give our best to the Master, and that means giving our very best effort. We also need to accept that no matter what we do, or how closely we edit, there's inevitably going to be that one missed word or other omission, misspelling, or error. And someone will probably point it out.

I like to encourage other writers by sharing my experiences. ACFW is an invaluable organization. Finding honest crit partners is crucial. Listen to them and try not to be offended. Learn to weigh the good and the not-so-good advice. Keep what’s good in your own writing and shelve the rest. Most of all, and – as I’ve said before – keep writing. And editing. That’s the best advice. You will learn, but like anything else, it takes practice. Torn Veil has now requested the full manuscript of the second book of my series - in November (!). So, can you guess what's going on in my life right now? A whole lot of editing going on! Oh, and I need to renew my membership to ACFW.

I’m getting better at self-editing as I go. My newer work (when I can get to it!) is better and more streamlined in many respects. The Lord is my partner in this writing journey, and I want to tell those stories He’s laid on my heart. I know without a doubt He's opened the right doors for His time. Keep working on your craft, and He will open the right doors for you, too!


  1. That's why I hire an independent set of eyes to edit my stuff before I finally send it off. I'm not a bad self-editor, but I know what I meant to say, and sometimes my mind reads it that way even when the manuscript says something different.

  2. Joann, I have hired an independent editor (Camy Tang) for all FOUR of my published novels, including the one Bethany bought.

    Plus I rely HEAVILY on my SUPERB crit partner Sara Richardson to help me get it right. I cannot IMAGINE sending something out without their help!

    Back patting you here in Normal, Illinois!!!
    Ex-Hoosier Patti

  3. JoAnn, dear ex-roomie, I commend you for your self-editing efforts that obviously are fruitful. I certainly commiserate about how it can drag you down. For those heavy-edit times I use a trick to get through. I temper it by creating a minumum of two pages a day. For me that's one rough poem (usually 5-15 minutes) and one written page. Blessings on you kind friend.