Writer School: Prime Rib

August 22nd

Let’s talk about editing. I’d say selecting the right editor is more important than having some genetic, magical ability to put great stories on paper.

Seriously.

Yes — there is crap that sneaks through and becomes a cultural sensation without good editing, but it’s gross. Twilight is a Big Mac; Lahiri is prime rib.

We settle for the cheap and easy too often as readers. Fluff books are good “beach reads.”

As writers, let’s not settle.

I’m writing this post as a pep talk. I am working on the first edits for Basket Baby from my friend Sagar. He is one of those who is so smart, it is fairly remarkable he can have a conversation and make eye contact. If you’ve read it, he’s read it. And the author’s other book. And the British review of the book. And he has thoughts about said author.

(Unless it is The Alchemist. This is the book that shall not be spoken of. His Voldemort of sorts.)

PB Party

He also has little to no ability to speak gently. He is direct, blunt and critical.

Our friendship was fairly new when he read my first novel. That lunch resulted with me crying into my burger at Four Peaks, and him awkwardly staring at his beer. To speak gently for him: it wasn’t his favorite.

This novel is different. I have another five years of writing practice, including multiple courses at Lighthouse, and have done a good bit of reading.

Thankfully this time Sagar can work with the story. (He still isn’t saying he loves it, but I am okay. I love it.)

He’s returned edits that are sharp, pointing out both major and minor changes I couldn’t see. He has effectively communicated how and why I should make these changes. This is the work of an excellent editor.

It is paralyzing to hand someone a project you’ve worked on for years that you think (foolishly and perhaps blindly) is perfect upon delivery, and have it returned with hundreds of suggested improvements. I imagine this is a bit like sending a beloved child to kindergarten only to have her return with a note from the teacher on all the behaviors you must work on as a parent to make her a great adult. (This is why they typically do not hire men like Sagar to be kindergarten teachers. God only knows what my notes would have looked like. “Make her shut up!” “She laughs at her own jokes. Too much.” “She sits down and reads during PE.”)

Becoming a great writer includes the rare skill of loving something so much, you are willing to let it go to make it better.

Lazy novels do not stand the test of time. As such, while I’d pretty much rather be doing anything other than editing the same pages again, I am digging in.

Let’s all agree not to settle.

Happy writing, friends!

~K

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3 Responses

  1. 🙂 Write and edit on. Hurrah for good friends who are smart and honest.

  2. Cheering you on! I’m glad you have an awesome editor who it’s afraid to give you real criticism that will make your book better.

  3. Rhonda L August 22, 2014

    Yes, a good editor is worth his weight in gold! My mom is my first reader because of her ability to spot plot holes and other issues and because of her candor. Work shopping fiction in college taught me that good criticism can only improve my work. I learned to be attached to my final product rather than my most recent draft. I’ve read that many publishers no longer have editors on staff, and I think that’s a shame. Lucky you to have Sagar!