I’ve written stories nearly all my life. I still have an original from when I was in grade two, three maybe. I wrote poetry and gory short stories through my teens. Picture books when my kids were little. And now, I focus on novel writing for middle grade and young adult audiences. Amazing how our focus changes along side our life’s path.
One other major change that happened over time was how I viewed editing. I used to be very sensitive to suggested changes to my work. I had the attitude, and even remember stating this out loud, “The way it came out the first time is how it’s supposed to be.” I liked writing first drafts, but had no interest whatsoever in writing second or third drafts or being edited. The repetition was “boring.” And I took any criticism personally. When I showed anyone my stories, if they responded with anything other than “that’s great” I would argue why it was fine the way it was and then go internal, shut down, and not write for period of time, licking my “oh, I’m a victim” wounds. If this sounds familiar, don’t worry, there’s hope!
So, what changed? What made me open up to editing changes? What made me relish suggestions?
Honestly, I’m not sure that there was direct turning point. I think it was more of process over time. For one, I started taking workshops and courses on writing that exposed me to actual growth in the writing process. I specialized in writing for young people and read a lot of resource books on how to write (and edit!). Eventually, I started a writing group for people who write for young people and by then, I’d better have been ready for some suggestions because it was “my” group, basically meaning, I invited all these people to come and join me in a journey to improve our writing skills and if I was editing their work, they were also editing mine.
Here’s the biggest lesson I learned along the way. Ready?
Editing is about the reader.
So, what does that even mean?
When an editor reads your story, they read it applying a lens for your reading audience. They ask a lot of questions of your manuscript as they read:
- Who is the intended audience. Does the voice of the story speak to that audience?
- Is the dialogue realistic for the age group?
- Are the characters developed so the intended reader can “see” them clearly in their minds eye?
- The same questions apply to setting, plot, arcs, beginnings, endings.
Basically, does your story come across the way
you intend it to? Does your reader receive the same
message you think you are communicating?
This is actually something you won’t pick up on in your own writing. You NEED an editor. When your editor gives you suggestions and asks you questions about your story, it’s not personal (I know, I know, how many times have we heard that?) But understanding this concept was one of the truly major turning points for me. Understanding this was the point that shifted me from amateur to professional with regard to (giving and) receiving feedback.
It’s not personal. If the editor is asking a question, they are simply asking for clarification about your message. A question is a clue to you that what you’re trying to say isn’t coming across on the page. Getting a picture from our brain and out of our fingers onto a blank piece of paper in the form of words is difficult at best. A suggestion for rewording a passage is simply a heads-up moment making sure that this scene is sending the reader’s imagination a similar picture to what you see in your mind.
This concept applies across all editing: re-working sentence structure, putting actions and consequences in chronological order, fact-checking, age-appropriate dialogue all come down to reader understanding and getting the image from your brain onto paper.
If you have questions about this concept, please ask in the comments, or contact me directly. This is one I love to talk about and try to get across to people because it truly takes much of the anguish out of the editing process.