Guest Post – Dealing with the Crushing Blows of Editing – Shen Hart

The lovely Shen Hart is a developmental editor, a book reviewer, and a business coach. You can see many of her reviews on The Review Hart where she and her colleagues seem to devour novels whole. She just finished her debut novel Wyrd Calling and has undergone the dreaded editing cycle for the book, which she was kind enough to describe below. 

Dealing with the crushing blows of editing.

I’m a developmental editor and author, and I recently went through the first round of professional developmental Shen Profileedits on my debut novel. It was… interesting.

The first thing I saw was all of the comments and the changes (he did proofreading stuff at the same time). It was very much an, “Oh My God I need a big bucket of Mai Tai and a gallon of chocolate. Now.”

Yes, I did explicitly ask my editor, who’s a perfectionist at the best of times, to be brutal. I told him I wanted every flaw pointed out; this book needs to be nothing short of absolutely perfect. That being said, seeing all that red made me close the document and go in search of alcohol and chocolate. I was expecting it, but seeing it didn’t make it much easier.

This is my little tale of how I got through it.

I found that you need to break it down into little bits. Make it bite size and easier to handle. If you think about the entire document as this big, red-splattered monstrosity that everyone will hate, you’ll never get through it. Start by reading the book write-up at least twice to make sure it’s secured in your head.

That means that you’ll know any big sweeping changes you need to make, and will help reduce any wasted time and effort. Once you’ve done that, do it page by page or chapter by chapter, depending on how brave you are. Read the chapter write up before you start on that particular chapter, for the same reasons as you read the final book write up – there’s no point in wasting time and energy.

As mine was both proofreading and developmental, I also broke it down into three stages. First I checked the proofreading stuff. Was I happy with the grammatical changes he’d made? Did he keep the character’s first-person narrative voice? The answers were both, “Yes, oh dear gods he got it spot on I love him.”

Ahem. Once I’d been over that (and made a point of completely ignoring all developmental stuff), I went back and moved onto the second stage: Dialogue. Now, every writer has something they struggle with, a weakness. We all have strengths, too, but this isn’t about that. Grab your ice-cream, we’re talking the stuff you fail at. In my case, that’s dialogue. And, Michael told me (yes, I’m making him a person rather than a scary editor creature) that my dialogue sucked. It was stiff and generic, to the point where he wasn’t really sure who was talking half the time.

I wept.

I hid.

I devoured chocolate.

I consumed much alcohol.

Then I finally emerged from my cave ready to try and tackle the beast which was dialogue. Now, I hate dialogue to the point where my first two books had no dialogue whatsoever. It was all reported speech. I did it, though! I broke it down, I focused, and page by page I rewrote that dialogue so that now it’s fabulous!

That left me with the final stage. I was really getting there. I was going to do this! The developmental stuff, the fixing of the scenes, the plot holes, the missing bits of description, all those bits. This bit made Michael laugh because I kept a close track on the number of comments left, and that number wasn’t going down very much as I went through the manuscript.

That led to him commenting on how I’d come up with some convoluted formula relating to my “Dear gods the ending is going to be all comments he hated it, oh gods.” It made sense to me! I knew there must have been a big cluster of comments around that ending; therefore, he must have hated it, and it was going to be horrifying and awful.

Do you know what actually happened? I had to fix some description, change a bit of pacing, and that was it! And Michael helped me figure out how to do it. It was actually… ok.

What have I learned through it all?

Chocolate and alcohol mean I can do anything. Ahem.

As an editor, I do pick out as much as I can in my clients’ manuscripts (like Michael does), because I want to help them make them shine. That will probably make my clients quiver and dive into their vices, but I can’t afford to keep them in ice-cream.

No, no, that wasn’t it. Oh! Breaking things down into little pieces and stages helps a lot. Yes, it’s scary, but when it’s lots of little chunks it’s far less scary. And editors (me included) are lovely people who’re there to help. At the end of all the ice-cream eating and chocolate devouring, you’ll have a much stronger manuscript which you can be really proud of.

As an editor, that’s what I’m here for. Helping writers make their manuscripts into the best books they possibly can be. As a writer, I’m happy to have such a good editor that really helps me do that.

Thanks to A.J for having me 😀


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