Lessons I Learned from Line Editing
Recently, my editor and I went through the line editing process with Ivory and Bone. If you’re unfamiliar with the steps a book goes through once it's acquired, here’s an at-a-glance overview:
Structural/Developmental Edits: This is the part of the process often referred to broadly as Revision. Your editor sends you a letter outlining her ideas for the “big picture" changes that will make the manuscript stronger. (There are usually several rounds of this stage.)
Line Edits: In this stage, your editor goes through the manuscript line-by-line. The notes you receive look at the “small picture”—word choice, sentence structure, etc.
Copyedits: I haven’t gotten to this stage yet—expect a dedicated post when I do—but copyedits are concerned with correcting grammar, punctuation, style, and usage. For example, if you misuse dashes—I’m sure I never do—you will find out at the Copyedits stage.
After going through structural edits, I made a crazy assumption that line edits would be… easy. Well, maybe not easy, but easier. This assumption was incorrect.
I learned A LOT from the line editing process! Here are five things I learned, that apply to writing and life in general:
Some things that you expect to be easy are actually quite hard.
Many (maybe even most) of the comments in my line edit involved rewording and rephrasing. At first glance, I thought tackling these requests would be so easy. How hard could it be to find a fresh word or to change up sentence structure? It’s probably different for everyone, but I learned that rewording the simplest sentences could be quite difficult for me.
I found myself bogging down on four-word sentences. I have to admit that I felt stupid. How could this be hard? But getting the wording right can be equally challenging when the sentence has four words or fourteen. I learned to come back to things after letting my mind clear, and to be patient and forgiving with myself when things didn’t come easily.
Another person’s input can help immensely.
I’ll be honest—I’m not good at asking for help. I like to solve things on my own. But line editing taught me that some problems become much more manageable if you accept help.
Sometimes that help came from the thesaurus (which, for lots of reasons, I usually try to avoid.) Sometimes it came from my (immensely patient) husband. Sometimes it came in the form of a suggestion from my editor, tucked into a comment.
“Playing favorites” can hurt you.
I never knew I had “pet words” until I went through this line edit. If I told you how many times I used the word “stunned,” you’d be… surprised. I was quite stunned to see how frequently my characters were stunned. Or shocked. It was… startling (another one of my pet words!)
An echo isn’t as lovely on the page as it is on a hillside.
“Echoes” are words or phrases that repeat multiple times on a page, or even in a paragraph. (My editor often would simply highlight the word in both places, so it would jump off the page at me.) My theory on how this happens is that, when drafting, I use a word or phrase that feels so right, I subconsciously use it again, the sooner the better! It doesn’t matter how it happens, though. It still makes for flat, uninteresting writing. (Fixing these was slightly easier for me than some of the other line edits.)
A question mark can make a huge difference. (So can the word “please.”)
It never feels good to have your mistakes pointed out, no matter how small or common they may be. Knowing that all writers repeat words doesn’t make it easier to address the hundredth comment about a repeated word in your own manuscript. What does make that hundredth comment easier to accept is a simple question mark. “This repeats. Rephrase?” is very similar to “This repeats. Rephrase.” Yet that question mark makes such a huge difference! (As does, “This repeats. Please rephrase.”)
How about you? Do you enjoy working on the small details of your manuscript? Do you catch yourself using pet words or echoes? Does rewording come easily for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments!