Along With Editing a Manuscript I Need to Edit Myself

Hands collaborating in co-writing or co-editin...

Hands collaborating in co-writing or co-editing or co-teaching in online education. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m deep into the editing of a 50,000 word non-fiction book. I was pretty excited to get this project because the author said it’s the first in a series of books, and he’s looking for a long term relationship with an editor.


But already, I’m running into all kinds of problems. They are not with the grammar, the formatting, the material, the ideas presented.

They are with me. I feel timid. I feel inhibited. I feel uncertain.

It’s not that I don’t know how to fix the writing mistakes. Or make the writing look great on the page. (Very important for an ebook in particular.) It’s not that I don’t know which parts are overkill, which parts are  redundant, which parts are weak, which parts don’t quite make sense, which parts need to be cut or moved elsewhere for clarity.

I know all that. That part of editing is easy for me.

But it is an editor’s job to be ruthless, for the sake of the finished work. With my own work, I am quite ruthless. I want it to be as good as it can be. No matter how clever, how witty, how well worded — if those words don’t add anything to the feel or point of the piece,  when I edit I take them out. With barely the slightest tug at my heart for their lost genius.

I am having a hard time being equally ruthless with another writer’s work. I know how much time, energy and effort goes into 50,000 words. How much of someones heart, their life.

And I want to remove so much of it… I am afraid the author will be offended. There are parts I suspect he really liked, really worked hard on. But if they don’t add anything to the work, if they make it sound rambling or amateurish, if they weaken the overall message of the book — then they have to be cut.

I was having trouble cutting as much as I know should be cut and worrying about what my client will say about what I did cut. I was worrying that I wouldn’t cut as much as needs to be, out of my own timidity, and the book would not be as strong as it might be.

Man, editors need some serious cojones! This is not a job for the Lilly-livered. (Love that expression, never had a chance to use it before!) A strong editor equals a strong book.

I consulted with my Editing Mentor. (Aren’t mentors the best?) EM agreed that was the difficult part of editing, usually for both writer and editor. She suggested several ways of kindly and diplomatically wording what I need to say.

My word choices can be a bit, well… shall we say, blunt? Because I don’t quite know how to phrase things gently, I become inhibited about saying them at all. EM  cautioned me not to tell my author that I deleted his precious hard worked paragraphs because he was beating a dead horse, LOL. As if I would ever do such a tactless thing. With a client. That I barely know…

Okay, so my editing is really good; bedside manner — perhaps not so good. But I’m learning.

As soon as I got off the phone with Editing Mentor, I felt much better indeed, and much more confident about how to communicate what I need to… and so far, my client is pleased with what I’ve done and the brilliant, er, I mean tactful suggestions I’ve given him.

Thanks, EM!

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Posted on March 29, 2012, in About Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I must be a real bitch (hence my blog’s name) because I had no problem at all telling my author that he needed to cut stuff. I was probably too ruthless (although he is still speaking to me). I made comments in the margins such as:

    • “Stop insulting your readers. You told them this three times already in previous chapters.”

    • “If I read this same theory one more time I’m going to puke.”

    • “First person; third person; present tense; past tense: and all in the same paragraph. For God’s sake just pick one and go with it.”

    • “I fact-checked this statistic. It’s from 2008. It is no longer relevant in today’s market. Either change your advice or don’t address this topic at all because it’s no longer true.”

    • “I’m serious — if I read this theory one more time I’m going to vomit.”

    • and eventually, I would just cross stuff out and write “Puke” in the margin.

    I’m a pretty good editor, but I probably won’t be winning “Miss Congeniality” anytime soon. LOL

    Kay in Hawaii

    • Yikes! You’ve got the aforementioned cojones! I don’t even want to say stuff like that, I just want to go snip snip snip, LOL!

    • Your author hopefully had a good laugh over your comments. I don’t know that I could pull that sort of commenting off and still respect myself in the morning, but we all have different styles… I’d bet your author found the perfect editor for him.

  2. I’m personally all in favor of tact. Tell me something honestly, but not so harshly it makes me cringe.

  3. Wow, Leslie! I appreciate this post. I am new to writing (just started in January) and as a pb newbie, honest straight-forward advice is needed. I don’t know how I would respond if I got harsh criticism. Would I crumble and give in to fear & insecurity or would it motivate me to keep on trying? I hope I would appreciate/consider that someone took the time to go through my work, word by word and give me information to make my product the best it could be. With my first critique for my first pb poem I had to read between the lines. While she liked the subject, I think she was suggesting that I write in verse. I think she implied that she could tell I had never been educated on meter nor form. I think she was saying for my first writing effort, I should not have gone with a rhyming pb. I think. I don’t know. My
    point? If we want to be the best writer we can be, we need someone who will tell the truth for the sake of the product. We (writers) need to develop thick skin, learn all we can to deliver our best product.

    • Yes, there has to be a way to “tell it like it is” for the sake of the finished work, yet be kind to the writer at the same time. That is what I’m learning… of course everyone’s style of communicating is different, and what one person hears as harsh, another hears as refreshing, so it is an ongoing balancing act.

      • I would never cut something without telling the author WHY I wanted to cut it. And I never make the cuts myself. I simply indicate where I think the cuts should be and write why. In the end, it’s up to the author to decide what to do.

        The book is due out next month. It will be interesting to me to see how much of my advice he takes and how much he doesn’t. But he still sends me funny emails (he lives in LA) and still asks me to look over his syndicated columns every once in a while when he’s stuck or has overwritten. So he can’t be too mad about my bluntness.

        To each his/her own.

  4. I think all clients and writers are different, some can take harsh criticism, some can’t. Once you’ve done a few you’ll be able to flow with a new found instinct and feel confident;)

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