Writers are in love with words. We rejoice when we stumble upon a new one that perfectly depicts an emotion or object we didn’t know had a name. We revel in obscures ones and poignant ones. We spend hours looking for the ones that can perfectly express what we mean to say. Sometimes, however, we love them too much, especially when they’re our own.
Cutting out the wittiest piece of dialogue you’ve ever written because your main character would never say it, may feel akin to pulling out your back left molar simply because you don’t chew on that side. Deleting the scene you just spent six weeks perfecting because it does nothing for your plot or your character’s development can cause as much grief as a broken heart or a lost friend.
Difficult as these things may be, however, we writers know they’re necessary – especially if we want to produce good books, the kind that actually resemble the amazing stories we see day after day in our minds’ eye. We just don’t always have the strength to do them ourselves.
Stephen King recommends putting a completed manuscript away for at least six weeks. Don’t look at it, don’t touch it, and – most importantly – don’t read it. He says it’s the only way a writer can achieve the emotional distance necessary to start revising. But, even that probably isn’t enough. You’re still not going to want to cut that beautiful piece of dialogue or that single perfect scene, and you’re probably still too close to see that mangled metaphor or the unintentional coldness of your heroine.
As writers, we are intimately connected to our stories, and this is a good thing. We know our characters, whether they’re made up or are people we’ve spent time with in real life, inside and out. We know their voices, their mannerisms, where they went to school, and if they’ve been married. We feel their pain and their triumphs. This makes us great writers, but it also makes us terrible self-editors.
To do our stories and our characters justice we must enlist the help of a professional who can ruthlessly cut away the words we have slaved over and insert them where we didn’t even know they were needed. Someone who can point out when our villains have become more likeable than our heroes or where our plot lines have come unraveled. We need the help of someone who can take our stories, our characters, and our words and turn them into the breathtaking works of art we know they are. And, that someone is an editor, but not just any editor. No, to really do your book justice, you need a great editor.
There is an art to editing that goes far beyond ensuring grammatical quality and pointing out places for improvement. Just as you have become intimately familiar with your characters, a great editor will become intimately familiar with you, your style, and your voice. Without that intimacy, the editor may be able to fix grammar and point out where the story isn’t working, but he or she won’t be able to offer suggestions that fit seamlessly into your piece because they sound like you wrote them yourself.
That’s the hallmark of great editing: when it’s completed, you find yourself sitting stunned by the magnificence of the story you wrote.
Sarah Hackley is the editor for Absolute Love Publishing and its imprint, Spirited Press. Through both, Sarah provides individualized, comprehensive editing services to authors seeking to bring light and inspiration to the world. A passionate believer that the written word can change lives, Sarah is deeply honored to be a part of these projects. She also is writing her own books on the topics of emotional healing and financial recovery for women. Her publications include pieces for Code Blue Politics, The Comic Bible Magazine, On The Issues Magazine, Texas Family, and the women’s studies bestseller Women Will Save the World. Her poetry has appeared in Under The Bridges of America, Crucible, The Final Draft: Midnight Masquerade, and The Austin Young Poets Anthology. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.