I’ve written about the painful editing process before, but it’s a whole different type of pain when you get asked to help someone clean up their first draft. Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled to be asked and more than happy to help, but now I realize just how excruciating it was (Okay, okay! Still is!) for my editors.
There’s a fine line between brutally honest and just plain brutal. I have yet to meet an author who minds someone pointing out the missing words, the wonky sentence structure, the grammar and punctuation errors, or even the out-and-out crappy sentence. Who amongst us has not done one or all of these things? Some of us continue to write crappy sentences and will until we die. It gives our editors something to fix and makes them feel needed.
But how do you tell another author (who is also your friend or possibly a relative) that the sentence they slaved over is beyond crappy without wounding them?
I usually shoot for a mixture of straightforward combined with some humor to break up the pain. I learned this technique from my editor Marcia. She’s had lots of experience (after four books) in finding new and interesting ways to point out my failures.
In response to my inability to be consistent:
Okay – choice time. Either traveled or travelled is correct. The same is true for traveling or travelling. However, you CANNOT switch between them. You must be consistent. (God, didn’t you learn anything in the military, Shirt?).
In response to my occasional use of vague words:
“Handling” is another one of those vague and overused words. Just trying to broaden your horizons. It’s an act of charity – really!
Also: Sorry. You just really can’t hate “that’s”. You have to hate specific things.
In response to overused words:
I think I’m growing tired of the word “simply”. It’s no longer so simple.
I had said. “…she’d struggled to hang on to her calm.”
I keep stumbling on this word. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it used to refer to a person’s state of mind. To me, it seems to apply to an external state, and calmness seems to apply more to a person’s state. But I could also be full of shit!
Commentary about an answer that came three paragraphs after the question in the draft:
Sorry. I don’t remember what the question was. That was two chapters ago. Remind me what she asked.
I added a paragraph to fix a problem Marcia pointed out and left this comment in the second draft for Marcia:
Okay, I’ve told you who his daughter is, that he’s unattached, and how she knows these things. Are you happy now?
Marcia’s response to my comment: Thank you. And your readers (all 10 of them) will thank you.
(I literally lost it when I read that and blew coffee through my nose I was laughing so hard. Marcia really is an evil woman on occasion.)
In response to the visit by my comma fairy:
You can’t leave the comma in unless you justify it to me – and wanting a verbal pause doesn’t cut it! I dare you to try to justify this comma!
Marcia’s comment to me when I asked about combining two short sentences:
Theoretically, you could put these two sentences together with a semicolon – if you wanted to fuck it up! Seriously, I don’t think they’re choppy. I think they work fine this way. … I’m trying to get you to write more like Hemingway.
Hahaha – #1 Hemingway was a drunk and had to write in short sentences. #2 Not a big fan. #3 He killed himself. I read somewhere that he’d just received the edits on his new book.
Quite honestly, the first time I received edits from Marcia, I did cry. A lot. We were both new to this and there wasn’t much in the way of humor. It was incredibly painful, and I was sure that I’d done such a terrible job that I should just walk away from writing. But we both got through it, and Marcia and I have found a comfortable mix of reality, abuse, and humor that works for us. I hope I’m able to do the same for my friends.