Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The impact you have as an editor


I have been running Hyde 'n' Seek Editing for about three years now, but my editing experience goes back a lot further.  It's something I've been doing since high school, if you can believe that.  My mother went back to college around that time, and she often had me look at her papers to give my opinion and to fix the issues that were there.  It soon spread to her classmates, and to mine as well... and I continued doing that, for "fun," throughout my college years.  Editing is just something I love and, as my sister says about herself when it comes to selling shoes, it's in my blood.

The other day, I received an email from someone I haven't talked to in almost five years.
          We had been classmates, once upon a time, back when she was really into romance books, which inspired her to write some short stories of the same genre.  When she'd see me in the library, she'd hand over her spiral notebook and ask me to check them out.  I'd mark up the pages with my purple pen (I have always preferred to do things against the grain), scribble some questions in the margins, and when I was done with the story, I'd give my opinion of it (as a reader) on the top of the first page.
            It seemed that every time I set foot in that library (once a week, if not more), she'd find me, and she would hand over another notebook for me to peruse.  My "payment" was always something different - a bag of chips, a can of soda, a notebook or pen, sometimes even a small gift card to one of the bookstores I liked at the time.
            To be honest, I could never figure out why she chose me - she was well aware of how much I loathe romance and, back then, it was something that I downright refused to read.  I liked her, though, and just couldn't say no.

Back to the email...

She started it off with the usual pleasantries, and filled me in on her life over the last couple of years. Then she came to, what she called, the "point" of the email.  She wanted to thank me, and thank me "profusely."
            Her mother had passed away and, when she was going through the boxes that were stored in the attic, she came across those notebooks full of stories she says she hasn't thought about since we were in school together.  She ended up sitting there for hours, looking at what I had to say about each story, something she admits that she had never done before this day.  I had always wondered what she did with them after I looked at them, and now I knew - she just threw them in a drawer in the bottom of her desk, and went on with writing something new.  She had no real plan for the them, just a story (or stories) inside of her that needed to come out.  Thankfully, her mother found something good in her artistic expression and chose to hold on to them.
            She went on to tell me that she had plans to start writing again and wanted to know if, when she was finished with the novel she had been pondering, I would take a look at it for her, even laughed and said that she was sure that my payments would be a lot more than they had been "back in the day."  Apparently she had not written in "forever," but it was my questions of those stories that re-inspired her.

Over the last couple of days, we have had a conversation through emails and, in them, she's expressed how much my editing - of school papers, of poetry she submitted to the literary magazine, of articles for the newspaper - really helped her to grow as a writer.  She was happy to see me, and even happier when I agreed to take a look at those notebooks, even if she never did look at what I had to say until now.  She said that she knew, when she was ready to take those stories to the next step, that my thoughts would help her.
            Her biggest praise was on the questions that I ask.  It was the questions that allowed her to think about the characters and the story, and see, through the eyes of a reader, where she went wrong with either or both.  She told me that she had started redoing some of those stories, just to get herself back in the practice of writing, and has noticed how much better they are, simply because I made her question what she was doing.  My questions helped her to be a stronger writer, something that she has noticed a lot in the new piece that she is working on.

I learned a lot from this conversation with an old friend.  Anyone can fix grammatical errors, but it's making the story stronger, while allowing the author to keep their voice, that makes me different than most of the others, something she pointed out, and I think she's spot on.
            I've worked with other editors and, unfortunately, some just go through and fix all the "issues" they see, never once discussing them with the authors.  (How does the author learn and grow?  Not all "issues" are right and wrong, and not all of editing is black or white.)  They call themselves "strong editors" and vow that THEY are what an author needs, someone to whip them into shape, along with their stories.
            Feedback like this shows me that I am doing the right thing, the right way, and that I make an impact on people and their craft.