More to the topic at hand: National Novel Writing Month has ended. Perhaps you managed to crank out 50k words. Perhaps fewer than that, or maybe thousands more. Whatever your results of NaNoWriMo 2012, you are probably feeling burned out. I know that I have been. I managed 50,320 words on November 29th, and I have only managed to add 16 more words since that point, despite sitting down several times at the computer and saying “okay, I’m going to write now.” What happened?
I do hope that I’ll be able to snap back into the writing spirit soon, as my 50k words hasn’t quite wrapped up the story that I’m trying to tell. I can bring you more details on my story at a later date (can you believe that I still haven’t worked out a title for it?), but one of the things that I have found to be most helpful in getting myself pumped up about what I’m writing is to have other read it. Whether it’s a large group of people reading an excerpt, or a trusted friend slashing away with the red editor’s pen, knowing that my work is being experienced by other people always gets me excited to work harder on my story, whether that’s writing new content or simply editing what’s already there.
In December, I can image that good readers and editors will be in high demand, since oodles of sloppy prose have been produced. What does it take to be a good editor, though? Here are a few tips I’ve come up with during my time as a writer.
Understand Your Author’s Style and Tone
If you are a writer, I’m sure you have a personal style (even if it’s a crummy one). It is probably different than the style of the author you are editing for. This is fine. Perhaps your author friend enjoys the use of the semi-colon; she derives great joy from scattering them liberally. You, on the other hand—oh, you, you sly scoundrel—prefer copious helpings of em-dashes. These are not problems. You don’t need to strike them up with the red pen just because you think that one would be “superior” to the other in this situation. Obviously, if the punctuation is used incorrectly, then you ought to say something. But many things are a matter of style, and just because Strunk and White tell you that something ought to be one way does not mean that your author necessarily must agree. For example, perhaps they are of the Charles Dickens school of comma usage, or perhaps they take great joy in verbing nouns. You will need to come to grips with this early on, in order to avoid unnecessarily needling your author. It also helps to understand the type of writing your author is aiming for. Obviously the appropriate tone in a Danielle Steel-style bodice-ripper is going to be dramatically different than a biography of an American president (other than Clinton).
Don’t Be Afraid to Question
Often times, we try to be generous to writers. We assume that we understand what the hell they are talking about, and if we need to read a sentence or a paragraph three or four times in order to get it, we do that. After all, we’re decent people, and sometimes we’re less than clear ourselves. But this is not the time to be generous. If you don’t understand something, now is absolutely the time to say it. I mean, if you had to reread the sentence three times because you were trying to edit drunk (don’t do this), then it’s your fault. But be sure to point out anything that seems confusing. It’s plenty easy to have extraneous sentences sneak in (or slip out), particularly when you’re writing at NaNo speeds. Did a character just go from eating to running down the street? Did day turn to night and back again in the course of a conversation? These things happen. You need to point them out to us. Sure, we’ll be embarrassed, but not as much as we would be if we submitted that kind of crap to a publishing company.
Use the Technology Available to You
This is more a personal thing than the others, but there are so many great collaboration tools out there today, and so we ought to use them. In particular, I’m big fan of Google Docs. Even using the Track Changes and Comments features of Microsoft Word is great. I like to write comments on things while I’m reading, because it provides my author with my initial impression when I read her material. I find this particularly valuable advice, because it’s what I want to receive myself. This isn’t to say that some “final thoughts” aren’t also a good idea. Often we feel differently about something after we’ve read it than we did while we were in the process of reading. There’s no right or wrong with this, though. Just make sure that you discuss it with your author and make sure that you’re both happy with the way that you are providing feedback. (An Aside: As an author, I let my editors pick their preference for this sort of thing, as they’re the ones doing me a favour my reading my unfinished crap.)
It’s hard to believe how quickly the end of the year is approaching. But it is exciting to know that already, I’ve done more this year as an author than I ever have before. Tune back in on Monday when I’ll talk about something. Probably more on editing, and perhaps a bit on style.