Alright. So by now you should know I want to be a writer. I love writing and reading and words and language and being a grammar nazi. It’s my purpose and I’m beginning to think I’m not exactly bad at it. (Thank you all for the affirmation!) I wanna tell you a story though, of how that last listed article can be the most frustrating thing in the WORLD. And how it makes editing a beiotch.
It shows pretty early on if a person is a grammar nazi. You question word sentences in books: “That that exists exists in that that that that exists exists in”. You question spelling: “Theater/Theatre”. You question punctuation: “He did; however,–” and nothing makes you happier than whipping out a red pen and marking up someone else’s paper. You have to have a thick skin while doing this though because if daggers could come out of eyes, you’d be 6 feet under with multiple stab wounds. Teachers love reading your writing because it’s well-organized and spelled perfectly in the correct tense. Hardly any red marks on YOUR papers. (Dodge! There’s more daggers coming your way!)
Of course, you have to know what you’re talking about while wielding the Red Pen of Death. Such an instrument of mass destruction cannot be used by amateurs. to qualify, you had to of read at least two book a week your whole school career and gotten high scores on all your book reports and research papers. To at least be GOOD at it. Any fool can color on paper like a toddler with wanton abandon. Not the TRUE writers though. Use the rules you’ve learned. They (the proverbial “they”) may not like you for it now but they’ll thank you for it later when your correction give them an improved grade.
Ohhhh those sweet sand easy editing memories.
Elementary school was cake as a grammar nazi because your peers looked at you with awe when you were handed back perfect papers and you answered every writing/spelling/grammar question correctly. You were the ‘smart” one and the kids were happy to have you in their groups. Middle school was rougher. Being a smart ass didn’t improve your social standing. It lumped you in with the “geeks” (which wasn’t the cool kind of geek) and this was generally the start of the “Dagger stare”. But the teachers loved you, which was a small consolation. By high school you just don’t care what people think and you’re proud to be a smart ass. You have no problem becoming your English teacher’s pet and proof reading papers. Being a lord of the Red Pen of Death was at least SOMETHING.
Here’s where things actually get difficult though. Yes, you’re book schooled in what kind of “their/they’re/there” to use and all the neat little symbols teachers put on papers to start another paragraph or switch sentences or insert something–you know those symbols right? That will only get you so far in the High School Jungle my friend. Assuming you’ve kept up your reading, you begin to realize that, aside from grammar and lexicon, there is a whole other side to editing that you must walk a fine line while using. It’s called OPINION aka Creative freedom. And now you’re recognized as someone who has their stuff together and knows what’s going on with this whole writing thing. Now, people are coming to you for ANSWERS.
Alright. You can do this. All you have to do now is broaden your horizons to encompass things like plot, character arc, growth arc, subplots, foreshadowing, character development, and pacing.
Herz a fulwhu kako wha..? Ahh mannn…
This is the most troubling thing I have to do as an editor. I have to tell an author (probably better and more seasoned than me) what I think of their manuscript. And they don’t want me to pull punches. They want SPECIFICS. I usually want to stuff my mouth full of popcorn at this point and say everything around buttery, salty goodness. Bad news can’t be taken seriously with popcorn involved. I’m just a nublet! How can my opinion be of any help to anyone?
But that’s the beauty of it. Unless you’re correcting a research paper or a factual presentation, you really only have your opinion and your bookish knowledge to lean on while editing. So you can fudge it! But only if you don’t try to redirect the story to suit YOUR image of it. So wording will be tricky. You need to be specific and vague.
Ohhh see? I told you that’s a tight wire to walk.
My friend asked me to read some pages she’d written about her life that she wanted to turn into a fiction story. It was very rough and she told me as much. She was just looking for my ideas of where she should fluff out the piece and what she was missing from it. Okay, I can totally do that! We went back and forth over the story and I realized I really enjoyed helping her with it. (Hey hey, editing ho!)
I got lucky with her story though. It was VERY rough and she was willing to look at my ideas with an open mind. I am sure though that, once it comes out that I’m a writer, I’ll get inquiries from people to have me read their manuscript and “tell me what they think”. Um…yeahhhh, uh–
I will give you two names that you’ll want to remember while editing: Jane Doe and John Smith. They are the medically accepted names for people they don’t know but are definitely people. Specific, but vague. So when you go to tackle a story someone has begged you to edit, remember these. The best you can do with “tell me what you think” is give an opinion and maybe make a few vague (but TRUE) suggestions like “you need to make your characters more memorable” or “I don’t get a good sense of pacing. It’s really slow and I wish there was more action”.
When they ask you how to fix it, you tell them it’s not your job and send them to the books.
No, really. Unless you are true blue editor, this is the best you can do. You can make suggestions but as soon as “If it were MY story I would do THIS–“enters the conversation, you’re immediately taking the story out of the writer’s hands and twisting it to your own vision. Some writers may appreciate your input and others may snatch the pages from your grip and accuse you of “not getting it at all!”
Always test the waters when moving to edit someone’s piece. Use Jane Doe and John Smith suggestions and if they want more, proceed with caution. As an editor, sometimes you’re merely a sounding board until the writer can get their Epiphany moment. Specific, but Vague.
Good luck with your amateurish editing endeavors! Or your professional editing endeavors! Walk that tight rope with class ;D