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Monday, September 11, 2017

6 Things I've Learned as a Professional Editor



I usually talk about the writing process on my blog, but today I wanted to talk about the editing side of my life. I also have a little surprise at the bottom of this post, but if you feel like you can't read through my points to get there, I guess you can scroll down and come back.

I love editing because I love helping writers grow and take their stories to the next level. In middle school and high school, whenever we had to write down our career plans, my plan A was always writing, and my plan B was editing. For over five years, I've gotten to live both my plan A and my plan B every day. 😍

I thought it would be helpful for other writers to hear my thoughts as an editor and important points I've learned (or that have been validated to me) from that perspective.

1. It's Your Story, Not Mine

As you probably know, I work for a best-selling author, but he also teaches and does editing too. One of the things I've heard him say is that ultimately, it's the writer who puts in the real work. It's the writer who came up with the vision for the story. It's the writer who puts in the hours. It's the writer who put something on the page. Sure, everyone else in the process may hold a little claim to the development of the project, but it's small in comparison. A fraction. And while there are editors and other professionals in the industry who may request changes, ultimately it's the writer's story.

Your story should reflect your vision, not mine.

I work in freelance editing, not for a publishing company, so my perspective may be a little different than editors of New York, but in my case, I strongly believe that the suggestions I make on a manuscript are just that: editorial suggestions. They may be educated suggestions and experienced suggestions, but they are suggestions nonetheless. It's up to the writer to decide how he or she shapes the story. My job is to help them see how to make the story better. How to nail their vision for the story and the audience's experience of it.

But they should write true to themselves, not true to me.

It's your story. Not mine.

2. Writing can be Learned

If you peruse things other writers have said, especially older famous writers, you won't go far until you meet the concept that being a good writer is something innate and can't be learned, let alone taught. This is elitism at its finest. I've also seen quotes from writers who portray that no writer (or anyone for that matter) really knows what he or she is doing and why it works.

Both of these ideas are completely ridiculous.

People who say writing can't be learned, don't know how to teach it. People who say they don't know how to do what they do are people who don't know how to explain it--because for them it's subconscious and intuitive.

Both these concepts are thwarted daily--by people who do know how to teach writing and by writers, like Brandon Sanderson, who know exactly how to explain what they are doing.

Writing is a tricky topic to teach and a tricky talent to gain because almost everything about it is intangible. But writing can be learned just as anything else. If you want to write a better story, and you have the capacity to read and understand this post, you can become a better writer. Don't believe any other crap you hear.

3. Everyone Starts at the Beginning

Remember that concept that writers must be born, not made? I hope so, because it was just in the last section. One thing I have learned and know to be true, is that however "naturally" talented you are, we start at the beginning. Everyone needs to learn the basics. And while, I do believe some of us are more "natural" at things than others, even Michelangelo had to learn his colors.

However great of a writer you feel are destined to be, or however horrible you think you are at writing, everyone--everyone--starts at the beginning. And everyone can make progress. Sure, some people may pick up on things intuitively or faster than others, but we all start at the beginning.

If you aren't a natural, you can still learn how stories work, just as you learned how to do anything else that didn't come naturally to you. If you are a natural, you should still learn how stories work and function, so that you can write them more intentionally.

The difference between a "natural" and someone who is not, is that the former learns and picks up on things more subconsciously and intuitively while the other learns more consciously and intentionally. In the end, both need to learn and use the mechanics to reach their full potential.

I've done editing for all different kinds of people--some with jaw-dropping professions. Trust me when I say we all must learn the basics to become better.

4. The Importance of Positive Feedback

Contrary to some popular beliefs, positive feedback isn't really a matter of self-esteem or ego-stroking. Can it do those things? Absolutely. But every writer needs positive feedback.

It is just as important for a writer to know what is working as it is to know what's not working.

Some of the things that are working well in the story may be things the writer did subconsciously. They could be things the author isn't even fully aware of. These things need to be pointed out so that the author can become aware of them and learn to gain conscious control over them, so they can intentionally use them in future stories, use them to better effect, and take them to the next level.

And even if the author did do them very intentionally, it's important that they know it had the effect they intended.

5. Rules are Really More Like Guidelines

Every once in a while (haha, who am I kidding? Every ten times in a while . . . ) you may come across someone who adheres to writing rules more than they adhere to the commandments of God.

There are a lot of great reasons to learn and adhere to the rules (remember how I said everyone starts with the basics?), but as an editor, I've seen times where adhering to rules actually hurt the story and writing rather than benefited it. Often the rules that get the ultimate devotion are rules that relate to style. Sorry, not sorry, but style is not the end-all and be-all, of storytelling. It has a place in storytelling, absolutely, but it is not the sum of a good story. It's only one element. You do not need to sacrifice all the other elements every time to it as if it were a god. You do not need to sacrifice tone in order to please the no-passive-voice rule. There are places where passive voice is exactly what you need.

Same thing can be true of content rules. Some stories really do need that character sitting and doing nothing but thinking for the opening pages (gasp!). Some stories actually do need that flashback desperately. Some stories do need that much telling. Some stories do need that vague passage.

95% of stories don't.

But some do.

This is why rules are really more like guidelines.

6. Not all Stories are Edited Equally

You would think that the more editing time a story requires the "worse" the submitted story is. And while the quality of the story is absolutely a main, if not leading, factor, this is not always the case.

Some stories are simply more complex than others. They may have a complex, intricate story structure. They may be full of meaningful subtext and undercurrents that need to be perfected. The author may have a grand vision for the story that requires stark precision and specificity to accomplish. Some stories inherently take longer to edit than others.

Likewise, I've done editing work for really amazing writers that take far longer than beginning writers--because what the former writers need to hear from me is much more advanced and therefore requires more specificity to explain and teach; it's not the sort of thing you are going to have pop up in a Google search with 1k results that lead you to everything you want to hear. Because it is advanced and intricate and sometimes personalized to that particular writer or story, I need to be more precise and exact in diagnosing and explaining it.

How long or short of an edit a story needs is not necessarily how "good" or "bad" a story or writer is. A complex story is not automatically better than a simple story. They are just different. They belong in different places. They have different needs and goals.

Not all stories are edited equally.

Fawkes Editing

For years I've occasionally been doing some editing for additional projects on the side of my regular work, but now I'm happy to say I have my own website specifically for my freelance editing services. 😍 And I'd love to get some help, if you are willing.



(It's so shiny!)

You can visit or link to my website at https://www.fawkesediting.com/.

But even if you are not interested in my editing, what I do need help with is spreading the word. I've put together this Thunderclap campaign, which, if you aren't familiar with Thunderclap, is a service where people vow to share a link on social media on a specific day.


In order for the campaign to work, I need at least 100 people to vow to share. Thunderclap releases the shares all on the same day (ours is Oct. 13th), like a big social media bomb. But if I don't get at least 100 people, Thunderclap will not release the shares.

You can also share the website any other time, but I need at least 100 people to help me through Thunderclap.

If everyone reading this post vowed to share, we'd be at the goal in a matter of hours, so please consider it.

Over the years I haven't asked for much, if really anything, from my followers. I don't even have products to sell on my website here at SeptemberCFawkes.com for you guys to patronize me ;) Everything I've done on this site, I've done for free, for almost five years. Actually, I even put some of my own money into it.

All in all, thank you for being a part of my writing and editing journey with me.

12 comments:

  1. Sharing, and have supported your Thunderclap on Twitter and Facebook.

    I love finding great content like this to share. Thank you!

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  2. I have learned so much from you over the years. And this post is exactly what I needed today! Thank you! Going to support the Thunderclap now.

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    1. Konstanz, thank you so much! You are such a wonderful person.

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  3. Great list. When I edit, or critique, I always include the statement, It's your story. Use or toss the suggestions as you will. With your attitude, you'll do great as an editor.

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    1. Helen, yes. I really believe it should reflect the writer's vision. I hope so! Thank you!

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  5. I absolutely LOVE this post. You read my mind, I think the same things you think :-)

    Especially on the side of learning to write. I do think that there are naturals and non-natural writers, and they are two very different kind of writers. But for both of them learning is a must. A non-natural who takes the time to learn, may end up being more an effective writer than a natural who doesn't bother learning. I know, it sounds weird, but I do believe it may happen. Storytelling is a gift you can't learn, but writing is a completely different matter. You NEED to learn to write, it isn't a natural gift.

    I would also stress the need for positive feedback. I was a member of an online workshop for seven years. And don't get me wrong, I learned a lot from it, I will always aknowledge it and I will alwasy suggest writers to be part of a critiquing group. But in that group people always focused on what didn't work. This risulted in a false impression for me of my own story. Because only a few pointed out what did work, I often had the impression that nothing worked... which is not what we need to know.
    The plus side was that I created a little group of trusted friends who would tell me everything, what worked and what didn't, and so I could balance these critiques with the ones that didn't address the positive side. So my suggestion would be to have our work critiqued by all means, but do take the time to form our trusted group.

    I supscribed to your thunderclap campaign. I'm very happy to help get the word out for you site. I do like how you work.

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    1. That's cool!

      "A non-natural who takes the time to learn, may end up being more an effective writer than a natural who doesn't bother learning. I know, it sounds weird, but I do believe it may happen."--I completely agree!

      Yes, I have sat in a few critique circles where people only gave negative feedback. I'm pretty sure it resulted in inaccurate impressions, too.

      Thank you!

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  6. This is a great post. I'm happy someone directed me to it. If you're interested, I host the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop for just this type of post. Check it out here: https://raimeygallant.com/2017/03/22/authortoolboxbloghop/

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I love comments :)