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  • Writer's pictureSofia Sawyer

What I Learned from Working with Editors

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me when it comes to editing. Not only did I receive editing feedback for Saving the Winchester Inn from my agent, but I also participated in my very first critiquing partnership. Working alone for most of my fiction-writing career, it was interesting to get another person’s perspective on my own work. Additionally, it turned into an excellent opportunity to build editing skills by reviewing someone else’s.

Editing is the bane of my existence, and I know a lot of writers feel the same. I already have to edit a lot during my regular 9-5, so rolling off a full day of work just to edit my passion projects can feel a little soul-sucking. That’s endless hours of staring at something with a critical eye, picking it apart, and trying to figure out what will resonate with readers.

Reading. Rereading. Writing. Rewriting. Usually, I can only read my work once or twice before I go cross-eyed and get sick of hearing my own “voice.”

Writing is so glamorous. Isn’t it?

For a long time, I had this crazy belief that I could do it all on my own. I could write, edit it a few times, and then the manuscript would be ready to go for pitching to traditional publishers or self-publishing. That’s just how I am. I’d rather do things on my own rather than have to rely on others. I hate the slowness that comes from waiting for someone else or the fact that some people won’t meet deadlines. I want to get it done and move on to the next project. My notebook of story ideas is constantly calling out to me, tempting me to have fun with the creative side of writing rather than the meh side of editing.

Being a writer really challenges my Type A personality. There’s a lot of waiting.

Thing is, as I got more involved in the writing community this past year, I learned that doing it on my own is very hard, and I’d likely do my readers a disservice by siloing myself. And, if I’m being honest, I think part of the reason why I didn’t put my work out there was that I was scared of someone tearing it apart and telling me it’s not good enough, only proving that all the self-doubt I harbor is completely founded.

But in working with my agent Jana, who also happened to be an editor for more than ten years before her new agent gig, I learned that editors are there to help you. They want you to succeed. Also, most will give you feedback in a way that will work with your personality. Do you like it straight and brutally honest? They’ll do that. Do you prefer a compliment sandwich? They’ll do that. Do you want someone who will explain why they think the edits they’re suggesting makes sense but give you a choice? They’ll do that too.

I was lucky that my agent gave me my first experience working with an editor. She’s exceptionally kind and helpful. Here’s what I learned.

Sometimes, Less is More

Before my agent dove into edits, she asked me to cut out 5k-10k words. At first, I balked at that. How was I supposed to remove that many words without cutting some core elements of the story? I was worried, but I trusted her. She believed that making that initial change would help with the pacing toward the middle and end of the story.

At that point, it had been about six months since I opened the manuscript with the intention of editing or writing again. With that break and the guidance from her, I saw what she was saying. Some of the events I wrote about were too in the weeds. Some of them didn’t propel the plot forward. If anything, they just set the scene. We didn’t need that many details if it was merely there for atmosphere.

So, I cut those out and simplified. These events were mentioned in passing to give that “Christmas feel” still but didn’t waste space I needed to focus on the budding romance.

And Sometimes, More is Needed

I know what I’m envisioning when I write certain scenes or dialogue, but do my readers know what I’m thinking? What seemed clear to me may not be for those reading my work. This was a real benefit to having another person review my manuscript. She left comments with questions or suggested areas to flesh out. For example, if I mentioned a character reacted or felt a certain way, she asked me the “why.”

Not everything she commented on was because it was unclear, but a few extra words or a couple of additional sentences could ensure there were no issues in understanding my meaning. Nothing is worse than when you’re lost in a story and then stumble over a section that doesn’t make sense. I don’t want my readers to get pulled from my world because I wasn’t clear enough.

POVs and Tenses can be Sneaky

Saving the Winchester Inn was the first story that I wrote in third-person with two main characters. Before this, I wrote in first-person with only one point-of-view (POV). It was new territory for me and took a little bit of time to get used to the flow of things. Although I did pretty good with keeping the POV consistent, there were random times where third-person omniscient would creep in. Had she not pointed it out, I may not have realized it.

Then there’s the tenses issue. Does anyone else get hung up on tenses like I do? It’s like the English language is trying to trip me up when it comes to this.

Having it pointed out showed me an area I could work on. Either I take some grammar courses to really get a better grasp on tenses, or I need to concede to the fact that I’ll need to rely on an editor to catch those things.

In the End, It’s Your Work

One of the hangups I had about working with an editor was the fact that I thought whatever changes they made were set in stone. What if they changed a character’s personality? What if they decided the POV was wrong? What if they wanted to focus on only one character’s POV through the novel instead of two? Or if they said the first three chapters need to be rewritten? Or maybe the story started in the wrong place.

All of those thoughts had me sweating. Writing is hard work and takes so much time. Thinking about changing some major pieces of the work was stressful. However, my agent and other editors I’ve spoken to reminded me that publishing is subjective. Sure, some technical things should be fixed like grammar, inconsistencies in spellings, and so on.

However, in the end, it’s your work. If the suggestions they make don’t sit well with you, then reject them. They can only offer you what they see in the industry and try to give you what they think is a better chance for the book. But if you feel your work needs to stay a specific way, don’t back down on that.

I’ve learned a lot in this editing exercise. Not only in what I need to consider when writing and editing my books going forward but how I could be a better critiquing partner for other writers who are looking for some suggestions. In learning from these professionals, I hope I can make my work stronger for when I’m ready to hire editors, pitch to traditional publishers, or self-publish.


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