Editing

After I finished the first draft of my first novel (now Book Three in the McCool Saga) I began sending out queries. I had 600 pages copied word for word from ten spiral notebooks. Within about two weeks the responses started rolling in. After a half-dozen, I began looking up rejection-statistics on published writers to make myself feel better. Then I got four requests for pages.

I sent out my pages and got back two ‘no’s’, plus one positive response (which had been sent to me by mistake). Then I got the bomb. An agent begging me to call off my blitz campaign and find an editor. “You need to revise,” she said.

Editor? Revise? Hmmfff. I stopped sending queries. Then a friend told me about a Novelist’s Boot-Camp being offered not far from where I lived. I applied, and within hours received a response from Toni Lopopolo, former Editor at St. Martin’s Press turned Literary Agent. “Take out all the ‘ly’ adverbs and ‘ings’, then send it back,” she said. I thought she was nuts but I did what she asked. And I got in.

“You’re going to hate me,” she announced at the first session. Toni promised to ruin our reading pleasure by turning us into Editors, first for one another (and for the published books we were reading) and then for ourselves. She also promised to boot us to the next level in our writing. She delivered on both counts.

When I met Toni, I had a passion for storytelling and a decent vocabulary but not a clue about writing compelling fiction. I’d written a doorstop with no plot. Now, deprived of adverbs, I could no longer let my characters declare angrily or smile sweetly. The ‘ings’ were next to go. When I removed those, the writing came to life. I didn’t understand why at the time. (I do now, but that’s another essay.)

Most of us learned the basics in High School. Beginning, middle, end. They even gave us lists of adverbs. I didn’t study writing in college but some in the bootcamp had, and even they were amazed by what they heard that first day.

After putting to rest our preconceived notions about writing, Toni read our pages aloud. Hearing what you’ve written while others listen can be like getting your skirt caught in your underpants. You hear the rhythm and flow of your prose. Or the clunk and splat. If you don’t die of humiliation, you grow a layer of hide.

We can never be totally objective about our work, but we can develop skills that give us a leg up. I’m not talking about spelling and punctuation, but about developing the eyes and ears to spot a dead-end paragraph (or scene or chapter). To sense when a character isn’t working. To know where to start a scene and where to end it. To master and utilize Point-of-View.

 


I believe any writer can begin developing these skills by engaging in the editing process themselves. Join a group. Take a workshop. Begin editing others. When the day comes for you to put yourself in the hands of a professional, you’ll be handing in your best effort. If you stick with your novel, that day will come.

Hiring an Editor is a big step, even a scary one. But we need to hear what does and does not work in our story. As a writer I know that how we hear this can make all the difference in how we implement suggestion and process criticism. We need objective, even cold scrutiny, but we also need heart. An Editor has to be the cold hard eye, the set of sensibilities that can track a story in bloodhound fashion. But she also has to relay information to a writer in a way the writer can metabolize.

Writing is a craft. But it’s also an intuitive process. There are rules. But to truly fly you have to break some of them. This places writing (and editing) in the realm of paradox. And if that’s not enough of a mind-twist, consider that no two writers are alike. ‘One man’s meat…” applies here in spades. As an editor, my job is to connect with the writer’s voice, or more specifically, the voice of the novel, and to listen for where it fades. To identify where the story falls away and the author steps in. To stand back and chart the arc of each character and plot line.

Novels are complex. Writing them is an all-consuming and solitary act. Yet~ paradox ~ we can’t do it alone. We need someone to mirror back to us what we’ve set down and suggest to us how we might do it better. I’m honored by the writers who have trusted me with their work and am continually amazed by the love these people have for their stories. They inspire me in my own work and make me proud to be a member of their club.

Some of my clients were kind enough to offer feedback. Here’s what a few of them have to say….

 

“…With Susan Setteducato I hit the jackpot…I was overwhelmed by the extent of her comments, suggestions and scholarship. I feel like I have completed a marvelous course in fiction writing.”

Peter Ricci, Author of ‘Florentine Gold’

“Susan is a gifted editor. She’s also patient. She took my book and turned it into a marketable product. Susan gave invaluable advice far in excess of her charges.”

Marie Cameron, Author of ‘Re-booting Your Life’

“Susan pointed out the problems with my novel and suggested ways to correct them. Her experience and professional approach made things clear. She will be the Editor of choice for all my writing.”

Linda Mulhern, Author of ‘Raven’s Daughter’

“Susan is my secret weapon. I have both my work and freelance writing edited by her. She not only corrects my spelling and grammar, but also tells me when I’m not being clear. Writing is a labor of love, but you need someone to hold your hand during delivery. That’s where Susan comes in.”

Carrie Collins-Fadell, Freelnce writer

 

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