Tag Archives: Editing

Do No Harm

smallpenandinkWhen physicians swear to uphold the tenets of the Hippocratic Oath, they understand the principle of “Do no harm.”  When a patient sees a doctor, the last thing they need is treatment which worsens their illness or adds a complication.  But in the literary world of editing, there is no Hippocratic Oath.  Many editors and story doctors will hire out their services, happily taking a writer’s money in exchange for a critique that cuts deep into a story’s gut, digs around, and comes back up with a small lump while the patient bleeds out on the table.

Why this word of caution today?  I’ve been researching for my upcoming workshop on editing for the Vancouver School of Writing, and while some of the editing services I’ve seen look legit, many of them are run by people without credentials who are looking for money.  As in the days of old, there is always a charlatan to prey upon the naïve.  Editors without scruples will give you lots of advice, quote a library of how-to books, and place a burden on the writer’s shoulders that Atlas himself couldn’t lift.  Many writers leave in despair, not sure where to begin to revise, not sure if they should try.  It is literary euthanasia, yet no writer intentionally hires a story doctor for the purpose of putting his novel out of its misery.

If you hire an editor, make sure that they can actually help you.  Make sure that they believe your story is worthy of being told, of being born.  Make sure they have references from writers who have survived the operation table.  Look for credentials in the areas that you need help with, whether it be precise proofreading or big-picture structural editing.  Make sure the editor sees something positive in your writing before you proceed.  Bad critiquing is easy;  helpful critiquing is harder. In order for an editor or a doctor to accurately assess where the illness resides, they must also understand what health looks like and help move you towards higher possibilities.  A good editor doesn’t just hate on a story, they also have hope for it and see its strengths.

sue 3Watch out there, fellow writers.  Hire your editor carefully, and don’t give your money to someone so they can just stick a knife in your back.

Sue is Pulp Literature’s Acquisition editor.  To register for her course on hiring editors and self-editing go to the Vancouver School of Writing website.

The Joy of Editing

Yes, I spent Valentine’s Day at my computer editing. No, I don’t feel guilty about this. My husband likes to see me on an editor’s high. I used all my obsessive energy to nail the italics for a tricky bit of interior monologue. My reward? The author wrote to thank me for saving his lines and not being a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” editor.

While some editors try to “Do No Harm,” other editors believe in “Kill Your Darlings.” In between these two is the magical realm of helping without hurting. I believe the magic comes from listening carefully to the author’s voice, and bringing that voice forward.

A good editor is like a good doctor. Good doctors listen and ask questions. Bad doctors make assumptions. I find the joy of editing comes when I can listen, support, and strengthen the story rather than change it to impose my will upon it. Sure, I’ve read plenty of books that needed a stronger editorial hand, and would likely have been diagnosed for amputation by a more vigorous editor. But “kill your darlings” is the wrong attitude. Both the editor that is too soft and the editor that is too aggressive are not listening to what the book is trying to say. If you respect the best intentions of a story, you will be true to the internal skeleton and make each piece function properly. Each line carries a message that needs careful placement to achieve balance.

I’m off now to do more editing. We’re busy polishing an exciting Issue Two with our graphic designer, and it’s going to be really really good. (And no, I’m not going to delete one of those adverbs. ‘Cause it’s really really good.)