It was a learning process for both Dan and me, but we had fun. He had written the first two of his Sapling novels and was working on Dove. I was leading the Write Group and working on my own novel.
One of the services our group offers, based on previous writing clubs I belonged to and writing workshops I attended, is volunteer editing of manuscripts between meetings.
Dan read snatches of The Blade of Ahtol, The Broken Halls and Dove at some of our meetings. So, I grew interested in his stories. It was inevitable then that I volunteered to edit The Blade of Ahtol.
At the same time, I was building our Write Group blog to provide our members, and anyone else interested, with resources to help them with their writing. Our blog includes free space for each of our members who want to blog about their work, or writing in general. With this came more space from WordPress for our members to create their own blogs.
So, Dan and I discussed the possibility of him publishing a series of posts describing his experience of writing, editing, publishing and marketing his book. Publishing and marketing are both new to each of us, so we felt that we could journal our journey, the ups and downs, deadends and successes.
In addition, they asked if he could talk about the process of writing and publishing Sapling. Dan in turn invited me to join him and talk about editing his book.
So this post. If I expected Dan to blog about the publishing and marketing process, with the aim of helping others through the adventure, I should offer the same when it comes to editing.
This was my first time editing another person’s novel, particularly with the goal of having it published. So, the experience was exhilarating and challenging to say the least. I made mistakes in approaching the task, but Dan and I worked the kinks out, and we are now much more efficient.
To begin, Dan and I worked collaboratively together on his editing. I highlighted places which excited me about his book and suggested places that confused me or needed fixing. We discussed some issues. We both brought these up either as questions or as comments. So, editing, at least between us, was not a stale unidirectional pursuit — two monologues responding to each other.
I think Dan would agree with me that we got this right. It certainly relieved stress on both of our parts. And it made us each responsive to the other. It helped of course that we were already friends and we each were invested in Dan’s success.
My intent in editing Dan’s book was to point out what I had trouble with and what I liked. I tried not to suggest corrections, particularly at the beginning. In this, I intended to emulate Orson Scott Card’s 1990 description of a wise reader (third question down).
I used Sharon Sorenson’s (1996) approach to identifying items that needed proofreading, editing and revising. In fact, in the editing of The Blade of Ahtol, I labelled my comments as P (proofreading), E (editing) and R (revision). I then added W! (wow) for those passages or words that I particularly liked and wanted to highlight to Dan. Further, I colour-coded my highlights using a spectrum from blue to red (until my highlighters dried out, after which the colour-coding really got interesting) depending on my perception of the severity of the issue I was commenting on.
This did not go as smoothly as I hoped. I highlighted his manuscripts, which I numbered by page and line. Then I commented in a feedback document referencing the page and line of each comment. It was in the manuscript that I used the colour-coding and the feedback document that I used the labels, plus my comments.
Neither Dan nor I liked that very much, particularly since we were using different programs to read the manuscript — he used Word, I used OpenOffice Text. The line numbering did not quite match.
I suggested that we use Google Drive, but Dan was worried, understandably, about security of his writing.
For his second book, Sapling: The Broken Halls, which we are still editing, we did eventually move onto Drive. We retained the feedback document as it complemented and expounded on comments I could now make in the manuscript. The colour-coding and P-E-R labels went — we kept the ever-anticipated W! — because Google Docs (in Drive) highlighted comments in only one colour and the P-E-R labels were redundant given that Dan and I had established what a proofread, edit and revision looked like.
But things were also lost. In the editing of The Blade of Ahtol, Dan and I had a copy of the original manuscript as well as the revised manuscript. The original manuscript of The Broken Halls was written over, erasing the original work, during its revision and editing. This, in my opinion, was much riskier. (I did end up printing the manuscript of the second book chapter by chapter so I could edit it away from my computer; computer screens are so sterile and harsh. So, if needed, we do have a copy of the original of each chapter.)
The way we did it is that I made the comments and Dan made the changes he wanted. I did not touch his manuscript.
I tried not to suggest corrections, though avoiding suggesting was awkward when it came to proofreading and editing. If I knew the correct spelling of a word or punctuation of a phrase, I provided it. With editing — that is, dealing with awkward phrasing or sentences, or things which did not make sense — I tried to just highlight.
But that did not last. I ended up suggesting possible solutions to editing problems, particularly in Dan’s second book. Thankfully, Dan decided what he wanted to do, for which I am grateful. Each time I suggested a solution I worried that I was dictating his writing. Dan proved himself more resilient than that and actively chose his own solution. This implies that he considered my suggestions as examples of what he could do rather than prescriptions of what he should do. Yes.
I highlighted passages and scenes that needed revision to deal with inconsistencies, out-of-place point of view switches and passages that did not make sense, made logic leaps or ended too abruptly. Sometimes I made suggestions; sometimes I just told Dan he needed to fix the highlighted passages. He quickly grew to understand that I had enough with the latter and he was to deal with them. This would be equivalent to my red-highlight colour-coding from before.
I also suggested ways that Dan could increase suspense or interest by rearranging passages, but I made sure he understood that I felt the passages were fine as they were and I was only suggesting alternative ways to tell them.
The Big Picture
I edited The Blade of Ahtol twice. Each time, Dan blossomed with creativity. The story improved by orders and even took on new turns and details. The editing obviously inspired Dan to improve the story. The thrill of approaching a publishable manuscript can intoxicate. I too was inebriated with it.
We found that two edits were enough for The Blade of Ahtol. One wasn’t quite enough, as revisions and editing produced more instances that needed proofreading, editing and even slight revision. But after the second edit, the manuscript definitely felt ready. It is that feeling, that gasp, that tells you beyond a doubt that this is it. Further editing would have been nitpicking and possibly detrimental. So it was time.
Dan and I grew closer in our collaboration. We were good friends before; we are great friends now. We learned that we work well together and that we can trust that we each had Dan’s success as our goal in our collaboration. Dan was tough enough for my comments; I was honest enough to have his best interests ever in mind.
So far, we have completed the first edit of The Broken Halls. That edit has gone faster with fewer technical hiccups than our edits of the Blade of Ahtol. In a week, this March, we will begin the second edit of this manuscript.
Card, Orson Scott. (1990.) Creating a wise reader. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Writer’s Digest Books: Cincinnati, Ohio. Pp. 121-124.
Sorenson, Sharon. (1996.) Writing basics: Step by step. Webster’s New World Student Writing Handbook. John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd: Toronto, Ontario.