An Editor’s Contention
Writer’s Digest(WD) is a great resource for authors, editors, and writers at any stage in their journey. I see WD advice and articles Tweeted, posted on social media, and referred to across writing and editing blogs. It’s one of my favorite go-to places when I need more information about the writing or editing industry.
I have stumbled upon a number of Brian Klems articles which have provided accurate and invaluable information for authors. But the other day I came across 10 Things Your Freelance Editor Might Not Tell You—But Should. Overall Brian hits the nail on the head again, but one piece of his advice really stood out to me: “avoid the temptation to hire someone to edit your first draft”.
As an editor, coach, and author, this edict has solid logic behind it, but it just doesn’t sit well with me.
An editor’s job is to make your writing piece as good as it possibly can be. In my experience, starting early, say after a first draft, offers that much more time for the author to get there.
While I am not saying an author should provide that rough draft to an editor right away without looking at it, I think developmental editing goes a long way. A developmental editor is a team member behind your manuscript who can help get you unstuck through constructive criticism about what you currently have by looking at structure, content, flow and can even begin before the manuscript is created.
A developmental editor may even help you flesh out your outline, point you in the direction or at least point out where more research may be needed, or help you with constructing characters for your work. Developmental editors are like communications consultants for your specific writing project – and often they are heard of more in the non-fiction or business industries. They might recommend appropriate formats to communicate in, they can assist with rewrites, and they can copy edit too. They are particularly helpful in identifying content gaps.
In fact, developmental editing is one of my favorite types of services I offer. Why? Because I get to really connect with the author of a work, understand what they are trying to do, and help them get there. Both editor and author benefit with this shared exchange. Some of the most satisfying results come out of first-draft developmental editor-author collaborations, both in my own writing and as an editor for others.
On a side note here, I have an amazing editor who does 2-3 passes through each of my novels/novellas, as well as, Beta-Readers who do one pass. At every stage there is some developmental editing that goes on. However, as soon as I’ve done a rough draft and it has been read through lightly once to make sure those times I fell asleep on the keyboard aren’t messing with flow, structure, and word count, then it gets turned into my ‘first draft’. That’s when I usually send it to my editor who waves her magic wand (I mean hours and hours of squinting at my manuscript) and offers insightful and valuable recommendations.
As many eyes as you can get on the project will help you get better faster. It’s very difficult after you’ve written anything to remove yourself from the work. Your brain automatically fills in what should be there or what you think you mean or missing words – you stop seeing the work as it is and see it as it should be. Preliminary developmental edits can offer sobering perspectives that make you see the work anew. As does second, third, and Beta-Reader edits.
It is rare that a writer’s work is ever ‘done’, it is often just published due to deadline or just because it has reached the point. You could forever change and shift a manuscript into something better, something different, and it could become a cyclical snare if you strive for perfection as an author or as an editor. But just because it isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean it can’t be the best it possible can be.
This is why I believe that not hiring someone to edit your first draft isn’t always the soundest advice. Yes, sit with it, look the draft over, make some notes and changes, but you don’t always have to do that alone. A developmental editor can offer expertise, perspective, and sober, helpful criticism to make your work that much better. They’ll help you see in ways that your hours of work that left your mind fuzzy can’t. And, you’ll get to a more cohesive, reader-friendly version quicker. When it comes time to publish that work be it a blog post or a novel, you’ll at least feel that it is the best it can possibly be because you started early with a great team member – your editor.
So on this one, Brian Klems, I’m going to have to disagree with you – I think denying developmental editing can be a serious gap in a manuscript’s workflow.
P.S. If you are interested in working with me as your editor, Alpha/ Beta Reader, check out some of the services I offer here or email me directly and tell me a bit about your work, your goals, and your audience.
Take care and I wish all of you writers’ success.