The Write Choices – Editor’s Marks

Image by Lorenzo Cafaro from Pixabay

I’m in the throes of editing my latest manuscript.

Despite sage advice, I edit while I write. I haven’t yet found the freedom to create even one page as an unfettered, uninterrupted flow of consciousness. Hemingway famously said “Write drunk. Edit sober.” I do neither. Each paragraph is laid out then almost immediately dissected for errors and word choices. Several iterations later, I move on.

It may sound laborious, but it isn’t for me. I love the writing process, searching for the perfect word or phrase that fits with the sentiment or action of my narrative, one paragraph at a time.

When I’ve completed a chapter, I hand it over to my poor pre-editor (i.e., the person I don’t pay for his work): my husband. He tells me what doesn’t make sense to him or where the plot bogs down or where more detail is necessary or where the writing has stepped outside the parameters of reality (as I’m writing historical fiction, not science fiction). If he finds one, he points out typos, but that’s not the main reason I rope him into this. Mostly, he highlights flaws in the story as a whole. I make corrections based on his feedback, then move on. In this way, he’s made his mark on the work.

Once I’ve finished writing the entire story, I go back to the beginning and read it through, further correcting and adjusting. I’ve been known to knock thousands of unnecessary words from the text in this phase. Another great American author (I think it was Phillip Roth) questioned why anybody would want to be a writer, opining that authors must write three times as many words as they eventually use. I think it may be even more.

So, with preliminary editing behind me, I send the shortened manuscript to my editor – the one who is paid for his/her work! This represents the first time the book has undergone independent scrutiny. And it can be intimidating if you don’t go into it with the belief that an editor is your best friend: they are there to improve your novel. To make it the best it can be. Plot errors, character inconsistencies, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, verb tense, etc. If your editor is good, they catch mistakes before independent readers will have that chance – before publication. I’m fortunate to have worked with some very good editors. I may not take 100% of their suggestions, but I always weigh their feedback against my ultimate goal: a riveting narrative with a minimum of errors in the published text. The marks of a great editor are there, quite literally, to make the work better.

For my last two books, my cousin Don agreed to proofread the manuscripts (because of some post-pub errors he’d noticed). Even after professional editors comb through the text, errors can remain. It happens to everyone. In my second book, the phrase “… Papa asks in response to a low grown from the other side of the shelter” made it past me, past my husband, and past my editor until the final iteration. “Grown” instead of “groan.” Ugh! A correctly spelled word that is not correctly used. Spell Check isn’t going to spot those.

Homonyms are the hardest! But my cousin picks them out with apparent ease. For A Peculiar Peace, my latest novel, Don indicated I’d used “tenant” instead of “tenet” and “eminent” instead of “imminent.” Not quite homonyms, but close enough. Plus he asked me about my repeated use of a phrase he found irritating (he didn’t say that, but he did point out that I’d used this phrase 24 times and wondered why). The final draft contains only seven instances. After Don’s marks, I figured the book was ready for typesetting.

Then I got the first draft back from my book designer – and discovered how wrong I was.

Draft in hand, I did something I should have done before I submitted the manuscript in the first place: I read the book ALOUD. To myself, mind you, but aloud. In that way, I found 144 additional changes that needed to be made.

To be sure, 20 of those changes were typos that had been missed by me, my editor, and my cousin (including an additional occurrence of “tenant” and another of “eminent” – at least I’m consistent in my errors). However, the vast majority were in the name of poetry: my desire to have some poetic rhythm in my text. The original lines did not read smoothly. In some cases, there were redundancies best noticed when read aloud. In two cases, the emotional impact of the words were lost because the order of the paragraphs needed adjustment. Mea culpa.

My poor book designer is now correcting my 144 mistakes. I wish I’d done the read aloud BEFORE I submitted the text to him. But this isn’t the first time. I’ve made numerous changes to my text after typesetting on every previous book I’ve written. All of those changes were discovered when I read the manuscript aloud.

You’d think I’d learn. You’d think I’d realize that the best editor marks could be my own.

About Lori Hart Beninger

Lori Hart Beninger is a native California writer with three critically acclaimed historical novels (Embracing the Elephant, A Veil of Fog and Flames, and A Peculiar Peace) that follow two 19th century young adults as they struggle with survival and acceptance in the pivotal era of the California Gold Rush up to the American Civil War. Please visit www.ontrackpublishing.com for synopses, availability, reviews, and more.
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