In a couple of years I’ll be celebrating my thirtieth anniversary of entering the publishing field as an editor.
It kind of blows of my mind to look back over the journey that got me to this point, and not just because I don’t feel three decades beyond that recent graduate moving to the Big Apple and brandishing an English literature degree I never set out to get. But when my college counselor said I had to declare a major I picked the topic I had the most credits in, having taken a lot of English classes because I loved them and they were fun for me.
I backed into editing as a career too—I started working as a freelance copy editor to support myself as an actor (because being an actor generally requires a career to support the habit). But within a few years I knew I’d happened into a calling. That degree wasn’t such a fluke after all; there was a reason I had so many English credits racked up: Editing, it turned out, was my passion all along. But I had to take the time to find that truth—I had to live a bit until I found my way. I quit acting and worked in copyediting full-time.
Then that, too, evolved with time; I spent years developing my knowledge and skill in my field and eventually moved into the developmental editing I do now.
What I love most about my job—and there is a LOT, so it’s hard to pin down only one—is helping authors find constructive, productive, positive ways to make sure the story on the page matches the vision in their heads, and does so as effectively as possible. To me that’s always been the true craft of the craft—but it takes time.
Writing—making something from nothing—is a heady, creative rush. I joke that first-drafting is the giddy thrill of courtship; editing is the long, hard work of marriage. Editing isn’t quite as glamorous as writing—sometimes it can be a slog. But it’s usually where a story comes to life, where the true magic happens—as a result of damned hard sustained work on the author’s part.
Don’t rush the process, I advise authors, so often in a hurry to share their work, to let their baby bird fly the nest. First, I advise, you have to make sure that hatchling knows how to survive out in the world—that the story is ready for readers.
And then I completely disregarded my own advice.
For the last year I’ve been working on a long-dreamed-of passion project: creating a practical, useful guide for writers to edit and revise their own work, offering the organic approach I use in working with authors to hone their story into the best version of their vision. Recently I finished the first draft and I was filled with satisfaction, pride, pleasure—and a rabid eagerness to share it with authors so they could start using the tools in their writing. I found an experienced, talented designer for the cover and interior, created a marketing plan, and set a soft launch date for April.
And then I started editing—and I realized there’s still work to do.
I’d rushed the process.
As much as I am salivating to get this book out into the world, it’s not yet exactly what I set out to convey. This project is too important to me—like all our writing—to not take the time making it the best version of my original vision I’m capable of.
So I hit the hold button. I’m still aiming for publication in the early part of this year, but before I start focusing on that, I have to take the time to make sure this book that means so much to me fully accomplishes the reason I set out to write it: that it’s as practical, useful, and clear a guide for writers to edit their own work as I can make it.
As writers you’re bombarded with information about furthering your career: churning out stories, getting them into agents’ hands, finding a publisher, building readership, developing a platform and a marketing plan, etc. That’s all part of the process, yes—but don’t rush it. You have to make sure that the foundation of all of it—what you’re writing—is rock-solid before you try to build anything on top of it.
I’m pretty far down the road to where I set out to go with this guide—and I may yet make that April date. But I’m not going to rush the process. This book means a lot to me—and it takes the time it takes to get it where I want it to be.
I know your writing and the stories you want to tell mean every bit as much to you. So honor them by taking the time you need to make them everything you imagine them being. Some stories spring onto the page nearly reader-ready; others take more work. Every manuscript is different, even for the same author. Don’t judge yourself if you realize a story doesn’t come together after you’ve finished your first draft—or your second, or your seventh. Each one takes what it takes.
Remember the reason you do this—because you love writing, love story (whether fiction or nonfiction), maybe because you want to affect readers, or shed light on our reality, or change the world. These aren’t small goals, friends. They may take time.
Trust the process—and if you can, enjoy the process. As hard as editing can be, it’s also the best part of writing, to me. I’m finding that as I really dig into my manuscript I’m uncovering depths I hadn’t fully excavated down to in my first draft. I’m finding better, clearer, more thorough ways to convey my ideas, saying more of what I actually wanted to say. That’s going to make this a much more useful, practical, helpful book for authors—it makes it more of what I set out to accomplish in the first place. But I wouldn’t have discovered those layers if I weren’t going through the (often challenging) editing process.
All those external goals will still be there when you’re ready—agents aren’t going to stop seeking out manuscripts that speak to them, publishers won’t stop publishing great stories, readers will always pick up a good book.
Taking the time your process demands allows you to give it to them—not when you may be ready, but when the story is.