My friend Sarah J Newton is a freelance writer and editor living in the Portland area, and has been kind enough to offer an editor’s-eye view of the writing life. Sarah is a freelance writer and editor with experience in newspaper and magazine publishing in the Pacific Northwest. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Portland State University.You can find out more about her at sarahjnewton.com.
The Blissful Agony of Editing There’s no doubt about it, editing is a writer’s worst nightmare. After weeks, months, or years of writing, your work is scrutinized and ripped apart. Everything that you’ve been working on is going to be changed in some way or another. Your work is something that you take pride in. You’ve crafted delightful characters, intriguing scenes, and witty conversations. This is your dream, your idea, your vision. When the time has come for you to submit your work to an editor, stop. This is the moment that you need to put all personal feelings about your work aside. As an editor, I make this request: One line at a time, read your work backwards. The oddness of this request is just why it works. In your mind, you know how your sentences are supposed to read. Reading it backwards allows you to catch things in your work that aren’t right. As you read and edit, the agony comes into play. Sometimes it hurts to change what you’ve worked on, treat yourself with kindness. When great ideas take over, the words flow better than grammar, don’t be mean to yourself for the simple mistakes that happen. Agony is also felt when you’re editing longer pieces, make sure to take breaks and pace yourself as needed. Read chapters out of order to keep yourself from missing things and to keep yourself engaged. The blissful part of editing comes from the cleaning. Your characters, scenes, and conversations become sharper and crisper. Knowing that your work is as good as it can be by yourself is also a bliss-inducing thought. You’ve done this, all by yourself. Editors are more likely to be lenient and work with you if there are fewer errors in your work, so take the time to edit thoroughly. The blissful agony of editing isn’t ever going to go away, the only thing to do is work through it with the knowledge that your work will be as ready for publishing as possible when you’re done.
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