The Writing Life: Trust Your Editor and Yourself When Dusting Glass Tables

Hello, and Happy New Year, folks!

(I’ll do a New Year’s thought another day.)

The copy edit of The Killer and The Dead continues in my basement of dust and glass tables. It ain’t for sissies. But the book is awesome, if I say so myself.

I have continued to do 10, or 20, or even a few hundred little edits a day. I had a bunch of editorial questions to answer. In reading and answering them I created more questions and reminders for myself throughout the text, unfortunate things that require additions and revisions, the things you naively imagine you have moved past when you get to the copy edit stage.

But no. You may not have to entirely rewrite a scene, but reimagining parts of it, and then smoothing the edges so it flows naturally might happen. Little things like changing the material of a chimney for instance. It can be much more of a pain in the backside than you may imagine. More insidiously, you might have a great idea to add something in late in the book that beautifully echoes a conversation way earlier in the story, and then have to wrestle with whether you’re being artfully clever, or beating the reader over the head with a dead horse, which generally readers don’t thank you for doing. Horse guts be smelly, and make poor scarves. (Who am I kidding, I’m totally going to go for the echo! I’ll be subtle, honest.)

Yes, I’m punchy tonight. Long day in front of screens followed by coming home to sit in front of a screen can do that do a person. So I’m listening to wonderfully cheesy late 80s and early 90s dance and battering this out with minimal editing! Hey just came across this! Not heard that in years. Not as good as This though! (Well, they are different moods, really, different soundscapes, different dances.) Some good times to versions of those songs, many moons ago.

Anyway, I have 10 questions left to answer. There will be minor rewrites to answer them, so I’ve left them to last. Thinky bits that might be best approached when I have more mental reserve than tonight. Then a few thousand line changes. I am about to make the point I started writing this blog to get to. And I have not been artful about it.

If you pay a professional to copy edit your work, trust them.

That does not mean agree with every suggestion, make every change, no. It does mean consider the changes, think about why they were suggested. But once you are done with those, and what is left is the grammatical changes, then trust your copy editor, and rip the bandaid off.

What do I mean by that? I think I’ve said it before, but I’ll explain again.

I’m not going to read my book over and agonise over every altered comma. I’m going to make a copy of the book with all those red changes intact, and then I will simply accept all changes. Rip the bandaid off. Accept all. Trust the professional you hired to help you.

It is a huge time saver.

This only the first copy edit pass, to be honest. I am pretty intimately acquainted with the words in my book, their order, and intended meanings.

Ripping off the bandaid gets me to the next pass that much faster.

I trust that I will catch any changes that break my intended meanings. If something strikes me as off, I can shift it as it jumps out at me. If it doesn’t jump out at me, how important was it? A tree falling in the forest kind of question there. Most changes won’t register because they work with my writing, help and improve it. A few I will notice and shrug and let it go. A couple I might break out older versions of the digital manuscript (misnomer? I mean, can a manuscript really be digital?) and compare what was before. It doesn’t happen much.

In short – when you get to the copy edit stuff, go through the higher level changes carefully , the questions, the highlighted repetitions (which are a one thousandth of the repetitions you will find over the next 3-5  passes – I already found a bunch for each of the ones pointed out to me. I am sure I have said this elsewhere, but not all repetition is bad. Some of it is even deliberate!), the tense shifts (yes I’m still debating those – but I’m bandaiding a few of them too, to see how it reads when I read the book over again with no red on the page, and see what strikes me as incongruous), but when you get to the grammatical nuts and bolts, trust your copy editor and accept all, leave it for a day or two, then start reading it fresh and see how much you notice!

Trust yourself also – you will see the things that don’t work, you don’t have to slog through all the correct changes to find the problematic ones. They’ll pop out anyway, because even the best editors are going to sometimes read something the ‘wrong’ way – which itself can be instructive, you need to ask what in your writing led to that interpretation, and how to use it, or eliminate it, depending on your goals. You can’t control the reader, interesting interpretations of your words will happen, but do your best to be clear where you want clarity, ambiguous where you want mystery. That is very exciting! Trust yourself to know your own writing, and let your instincts guide you when reading something for the thirty fifth time.

Just kidding, there is no way I’m doing thirty five more passes. Four tops and I’m done. Probably five. Six or seven when you count formatting reads. It is what it is, and every pass makes it better, so I embrace it. There are more stories to tell, and this one is almost ready to share.

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One thought on “The Writing Life: Trust Your Editor and Yourself When Dusting Glass Tables

  1. Pingback: The Writing Life: Bandaid Ripped Off – Roderick T. Macdonald

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