Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Kvelling and Conferencing

I'm still at work at 10:53 at night! Third late night in a row, too (though tonight I went to the gym and out to grab dinner before I came back to the office). But nighttimes and weekends are the best time to get real editing done, when the phone doesn't ring, the e-mail doesn't chirp, and no one can bring rush mechanicals by; and this ms. is moving along swimmingly, tiny infelicities falling right and left. Lord, I love the work of my work, when it's going well like this.

I just accepted an invitation to speak at the Michigan SCBWI conference in Kalamazoo October 6-8. I am not quite sure what I am going to speak about . . . Voice, maybe, like I was saying earlier, or bringing together and refining all the ms.-evaluation techniques I've used elsewhere -- the character chart, the plot worksheet -- and talking about ways to approach novel revision. I've also been thinking for a long time about writing something about nitty-gritty editing like the kind I'm doing tonight: how I look at a manuscript both globally and line-by-line; how I edit it based on that analysis; how those editorial ideas are expressed to my authors (though this really depends on the ms. and the author); what happens next. This would also probably link up with the novel-revision idea in the end, so there'd be something concrete and usable for writers to take away. . . .

What do you all think? Any topics you'd love to hear an editor cover?

Back to the manuscript now!


  1. Personally, the only thing I like to hear an editor talk about is what should be in a query letter. But if you HAD to move on...

    I'd be fascinated to hear how you manage to keep a manuscript "fresh" for yourself on the Nth pass. I'd love to hear how the global interacts with the line specific... and how a writer can learn to look at a manuscript that way (if he/she doesn't already!). And I'm curious about how you approach voice -- techniques that you might use to enhance it, even though it's not YOUR voice.

    And query letters, of course.

  2. I like the editing idea: the global and nitty-gritty parts of editing. I am curious how you think about those things. They seem so different from each other, but both have to happen. How do you shift gears? Where do you start, where do you finish?

    Maybe i'm nerdy for thinking this is interesting, but i am very interested in the mechanics of writing and improving writing.

  3. Those all sound good. I also think writers are always fascinated by "a day in the life of an editor," behind the scenes kind of thing like you sometimes post about.

    I hope you get to come in later in the morning when you have to work late like this :)

  4. *looks at calendar*

    *looks at website*

    *looks at Mapquest*

    *is tempted*

  5. I always like hearing editors talk about specific books they've edited and what about those books caught their attention (which, I'm sure, has a lot to do with voice).

    - Jay

  6. After hearing you speak last fall, I imagine whatever you decide will be good...I thoroughly enjoyed your talk :) Other talks that have advanced my writing include discussions on voice (of course), how to critique (your own and others' work), vivid characterizations.... Wish I could be there!

  7. I'm for the editing idea, too. I'm sure that those very techniques would be useful for revisions and would give me insight into editor lingo as well.

  8. I guess I'm most interested in what makes one competently-written manuscript stand out over another in the eyes of an editor. Is it voice? Is it the level of editing you're talking about here? I think discussing the kinds of things you edit for in a manuscript you've acquired would be ueful to those of us non-beginners who are (hopefully) not totally clueless, yet haven't gotten past the requested-partial stage.

    Thanks for your blog and for posting your other talks, by the way. You've managed to explain some things in depth about the heart of a novel that really worked for me. I'm REALLY sad I'm moving out of Michigan this summer!

  9. I'd go for something along the lines about editing for thematic structure in a novel. Because you have all these myriad degenerate parts coming together in your novel and you look at them and go, is it a whole? How the hell do I know! Then out comes the bourbon and it's all downhill from there.

    What's kicking me in the tail about Symphonians is that there are all these little bitty themes, and a couple of interesting motifs, and then all these larger issues, and it seems that they're all at loggerheads with each other. I'm thinking, there must be a way to make it more cohesive? coherent? Chaotic would be the best word for what I seem to have right now.

    So yeah, global editing or thematic structure would be cool.

    Though I suspect that what I really need to do is go back to school.

  10. What things, besides authors, that you like to collect or accummulate?

  11. Hmm. I really prefer talking about craft to talking about submissions because thinking about craft usually ends up being interesting/useful to me as an editor, while thinking about submissions . . . I still pretty much get what comes to me. And I actually don't like directing people's submissions too much (in terms of how to write a query letter, etc.) because the most interesting and important thing in a submission is seeing how a writer's mind works: if they can construct a sentence and a paragraph, whether they can surprise me. If they can, we go on from there. (Very much the standard I use to judge first dates too, actually.)

    What Melinda says is interesting because I've been thinking about how much of editing is about (1) making sure the structure of the story is solid; (2) knowing what the book is about, so you know what does and doesn't belong thematically; and then (3) judging whether the information that *is* included is shown to its best advantage, and rebalancing or rearranging that info if it isn't. How to put this in a talk? Hmmm.

    I'm fond of saying that "Editing is the art of putting information in order."

    Things I Collect (a completely cheesy list, sorry): books; recipes; poems; friends; bags; notebooks; experiences.

  12. I'd like to hear about first lines and what they need to have in them in order to capture your attention. Some of your favorite first lines.

    And what you like to see in a picture book submission.

    Thanks so much, Cheryl for sharing your knowledge and experience with the rest of us. We really do appreciate it. :)

  13. I'm very interested in the sense of ownership an editor has over a book (compared to an author), the kind of preciousness or not you might feel about someone's novel. After all you live with the novel in your heart for a while, carry it with you while you do the dishes or go for a walk... Do you ever grieve when an author doesn't make changes you think are necessary to really make the book sing? Is there ever internal conflict in you, do you ever want to take a book over (I know you can't, but do you want to grab the book and run away and change it just to your liking)?
    Do you think good authors enjoy the editorial process? (An author I saw talking recently says he never believes authors who say they enjoy being edited, because he thinks it's an excruciating process. I on the other hand enjoy being able to immerse myself fully in the world of a novel with someone who understands and cares about the characters as much as I do, which I feel I've always got from my editors.)
    I'd love to hear you speak, I'm working my way through your website with great interest. It's so fantastic and generous of you to share your thoughts and experience.

  14. Actually, Lois, I covered my favorite first lines and what makes a great first line in "The Rules of Engagement":

  15. My vote is for global and nitty-gritty editing.

  16. >>I've been thinking about how much of editing is about (1) making sure the structure of the story is solid; (2) knowing what the book is about, so you know what does and doesn't belong thematically; and then (3) judging whether the information that *is* included is shown to its best advantage, and rebalancing or rearranging that info if it isn't. How to put this in a talk?<<


    Exactly this. I think it would help someone with a good story figure out how to significantly improve it (and hopefully connect with an editor, regardless of genre), while at the same time being an interesting window into an editor's mind as s/he works.

    There are a lot of how-to books/articles out there on the parts of good writing, but something like this addresses how they work together to form a cohesive whole.

    Although again, anything you end up addressing will be interesting/useful!

  17. “What do you all think? Any topics you'd love to hear an editor cover?”

    There’s a kid in the candy store kind of question…

    Evaluation techniques would be hot! I’m curious about the overall process, timelines, and how the revisions are decided on. I’d also love to see some “before and afters”, that is, a page before editing, the reasons for the changes and why.

    I’m curious about edits made based on reader grade level. For example, how is a picture book edit different then a middle grade or YA novel?

    Finally I’d like to know… “Do you take the subway at midnight or can you work at home?”



  18. Just to be clear... I'm completely joking when I mentioned hearing an editor speak of query letters. It's fine for 2 seconds, but I've seen it eat up entire Q+As. Not so good.

    From a writer's point of view, beside loving to see the mystery of what an editor does revealed, the things that fascinate me and are most helpful craftwise are ways an editor (or writer) enhances what is already on the page... whether by excising, word choice, fixing the story to work better the characters arcs (or vice versa). Also... how do you look at the whole and figure out where to start in the details.

    Oh. And query letters :-)

  19. And we do look forward to your visit in October and your words of wisdom, Cheryl. Although you'll be here a full weekend, the conference time with you will be too short.

    You know writers and you know editing. What's the phrase you folks like to use? Ah, yes: a fresh approach. Talking about voice is always good, as well as writing elements. Personally, I like to hear how an editor thinks, how s/he see stories -- the good, the bad and the ugly, but mostly the good so it can be drilled in to my poor distracted brain.

  20. Regarding your topic of discussion for the Oct. 6-8 conference, how about addressing the psychological reasons we want to write children's books followed up by an introspective journey on the emotional pangs and perspectives of writing anything! As a writer,
    I feel drawn to express, create,
    communicate and connect with others, my readers. Also, I feel discouraged when my books don't get published. Is publishing the only mark of success? Now THERE's
    a topic!

  21. Okay, this is taking shape in my mind. I think I would probably start by talking about the 1/2/3 process I listed above, the structure/about/language; discussing the techniques I use to analyze these things; then giving participants a page to read and editing it before their very eyes! A lot of the things y'all have brought up will be answered in the course of that.

    I don't quite feel qualified to discuss authors' feelings about being edited because I'm not an author. . . . I hope my authors do remember my notes have nothing to do with them personally, only with making the book *work*. That's the most important thing. (I have to remember this too when my flap copy or catalog copy or presentations get edited.) I wrote about how to think about the edits you receive a little more here: in a comment on Stephanie's journal.

    I do take the subway at midnight; I also work at home occasionally.

    Oh, and I also collect five-pointed stars, guilt, CDs, and bookmarks.

  22. For your talk at the Michigan conference Oct. 6-8, how about addressing the psychological reasons that comepl us to write AND the emotional motivators and inhibitors? Now, there's a meaty subject for you! I'd love to hear your (and others) responses to these thoughts.

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  24. I love the idea of the hands-on editing!

  25. Hi there!
    I’ve been thinking about this question for a few days. Yes, I’d like to hear your views on voice. I’d also like to hear about pacing and themes needed. But—---mostly, my vote is for Pandora’s Box. “Hope”. Nothing inspires my writing more than hearing how the publishing industry is in desperate need of children’s books-- children’s books that are unique and of course well written. It’s the “hope” that keeps me writing. And that hope best comes from someone with publishing power.
    I’ll always remember a passage from Stephen King’s book, On Writing. His wife Tabby was his first editor. He’d pass her his manuscript and anxiously wait for her response. One time she looked at him and said, “Don’t be so needy”. And I think that is what many writers are. Needy for approval of their skills. Needy for any tips. Needy to be published. And with the smallest amount of encouragement, all writers flourish.
    I’d love to attend this conference. Too bad I live so far away.

  26. Loved your "things you collect list!" Just occurred to me that writing/editing are, at heart, a collage making activity, collections we arrange in a way.