Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Gentle Art of Editing

Some of you may know that I work as a volunteer editor for the charity erotica publisher Coming Together. It's one of the things I do to "give back" and show my gratitude for all the blessings in my life. Specifically, I'm the editor for the "Coming Together Presents" imprint, a line of single-author short story collections, each of which benefits a different charity.

I've edited four collections so far, all by incredibly talented authors. Yesterday I sent off the final manuscript for the fifth, a volume of work by Teresa Lamai, whose proceeds will support Amnesty International.

I've known Teresa for a long time, and always loved her fiction. Her stories didn't really need much in the way of changes. As I worked on the book, though, I became aware of the tension between my "author" self and my "editor" self.

Teresa's style is quite different from mine. She uses shorter, more direct sentences. She repeats words and phrases, deliberately, for emphasis. She loves to use semi-colons - even more than I do!

I removed some of the repetitions and revised some of the punctuation. I realized, though, that I needed to resist the urge to change her prose too much. Sure, there are a few "rules" that editors apply, but the fact is that the English language is immensely rich and flexible. Furthermore, sometimes an author breaks "rules" in order to achieve a certain effect. There's always the danger that an editor will "homogenize" a story by being too heavy handed.

I've had some editors who (I felt) erred in that direction, by suggesting changes that stripped some of the individuality from my work. In some cases, I've objected. (Actually, the fact that I'm an editor myself gives me the confidence to push back when I don't agree with an edit.)

Editing requires a gentle touch. When the author reads her story, post-editing, she should find it smoothed, perfected, not mangled. She should feel that her personal voice rings out even more clearly than before the edits.

When I'm editing, I've found that I have to avoid ego. I mustn't think of myself as an expert, an authority imposing my ideas on the writer. A more appropriate orientation might be to consider myself a humble gardener, carefully pruning away unsightly tangles and dead branches so the true beauty of the work become more apparent.


widdershins said...

... and, I suspect, deciding which of those tangles and dead bits might just be there purposefully!

Bravo to you for being an editor as well!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Thanks, Widdershins,

Yes, you're right. You don't want to bog down the author by asking a question about EVERY change!

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