Why Do You Write?

There are at least as many reasons to write as there are people. Probably more. My reasons to write have changed over time. Yours probably have, too, and will continue to do so. Even my reasons for writing each piece and each type of writing are different. It’s more than OK. It’s necessary.

The amazing and articulate Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the distinction between four different kinds of creativity.

Editing and assisting writers is my job, my career, and my vocation.

Regardless of whether your writing craft is a hobby, a job, a career, or a vocation, I can help you.

Types of Editing

There are several types of editing based on the current state of the manuscript. Hell, there are probably as many types of editing as there are editors. We humans have been writing stories for a long time. Many editors call their categories and services by other names, but they all boil down to something like this in approximate sequence of need and execution.

Story Cartography

Story Cartography is a process-oriented consulting to assist and accelerate the development or creation of a prototype story or synopsis that works. The purpose of this engagement is to deliver a story structure which will satisfy reader expectations in your genre(s) and evoke the emotions that you need to convey to create catharsis in your readers.

Many writers think they can skip this step. Many just do it naturally. We are a species of storytellers after all. Some of them are correct. Most are not. Most books fail at this stage of story development because their premises are fundamentally flawed for any number of reasons. Even veteran story tellers make rookie mistakes at this stage. I call this Story Cartography because the goal is to create a map for the rest of your writing process to follow that will prevent you from getting lost along the way.

If you can afford professional help at this early stage, I’m your huckleberry.

Developmental Editing

As a book shaman, what I do primarily is commonly called developmental editing. This practice is evaluating and improving, if necessary, the holistic story structure of your work-in-progress (WIP) manuscript to make certain it meets the expectations of readers in your genre(s) and achieves the kind of catharsis that you set out to create. This is the bread and butter of the Story Grid methodology and where I can provide the most value to you, either as a Diagnostic or an Intensive. This work is done at the synopsis and foolscap level first in the Diagnostic then at the scene-by-scene level in the Intensive. Those are in order for a reason. (Yes, it’s tedious and hard. But it’s crucial to get it correct here before you proceed further.)

Developmental editing isn’t about value judgment of the work of you as a writer. It’s a mechanized problem-solving methodology based on real-world neuroscience and reader psychology. Storytelling at its foundation can be quantified and studied without diminishing the art and craft in any way. Whether your story works or not doesn’t make it (or you) good or bad. If it doesn’t work, YOU are not the problem: the problem is the problem. This is a works/doesn’t-work decision and a highly iterative process. Don’t rush it. Especially for your first few novels, this can take more time than you want it to. (It always does for me.)

If your book is done, start with a Diagnostic and if I think you’re ready for an Intensive, I’ll credit the cost of the Diagnostic toward the full price of the Intensive.

Content Editing

Content editing is the next level lower in granularity. Some writers want to zoom down to this level and bypass the hard work of story development. Resist the temptation. Go back up and make sure your story works before you begin polishing your prose. Content editing is a process of evaluating and improving (it’s always possible/necessary, sorry!) the story elements in your work through the use of characterization, voice, and pacing at the paragraph and sentence level. This is a more thematic approach to insure all of the pieces of your story are aligned with the message(s) you’re trying to deliver. Yes, you’re delivering a message—even in a fun fantasy story, there needs to be a point for the reader.

This is the stage where we make sure that your characters and other parts of the story have names and descriptions that make sense. This is where we deal with your wooden or cliched characters and scenes. We make dictionaries and taxonomies and vocabularies (even in a contemporary setting!). And this is where the world-building is tested to make sure that it all serves the story well. I can absolutely help you with this, and Story Grid is developing beta version tools for assessing content at this level that I’m happy to deploy on your behalf.

Here we’re in a the custom quote territory. Let’s start with some face-to-face Story Consulting and I’ll give you some free sample edits for a chapter or two so you can get a sense of what a full content edit would be like.

Copy/Line Editing & Proofreading (a.k.a. Stuff I Don’t Do)

Deeper than content, copy editing or line editing is evaluating and improving your line-by-line writing and metaphor for consistency of voice, grammatical correctness, etc. I’ll be honest. This isn’t my forte. I’ll probably introduce you to some friends of my who are FABULOUS copy editors and recommend that you work with them. I always hire someone else to do this for me in my own books. You’ve gotta play to your strengths and build the right team around you to handle your weaknesses. I do.

Proofreading is always the last step in the editing cycle to make sure that no commas, apostrophes, or God-forbid, actual words (like pronouns or articles) are missing. This isn’t my jam. I know some badass proofreaders who never miss a jot or a tittle and I’m happy to introduce you to them. I always hire someone else to do this for me in my own books. Always. I only barely know what a jot or a tittle is.

Do I Need An Editor?

Yes.

I’m sorry if that answer surprises you or seems self-serving, but in my professional opinion, even editors need editors. (I’m sure you’ll find typos on this unedited website. Sorry.)

As a professional writer (and professional editor!), I’ve hired several great editors over the course of my career so far. And I’ll be hiring more of them in the future. There are things I’m good at and there are things I need help with. This is true for every storyteller.

The myths of the starving artist, the imprisoned savant, and Plato’s cave notwithstanding, it’s my professional opinion that no book of substance and quality was ever produced and published alone.

It can feel like a risky proposition to put money out there and not be sure whether you’re ready or whether you’ll get your money’s worth. I offer an inexpensive First Page Critique for that reason. You’ll get a sense of what I do for very little money and after we video conference about my analysis of your first page, you’ll have a better sense of whether I’m the type of jerk you like.

Choosing people to join your publishing team can be a decision fraught with budget concerns, social anxiety, and all kinds of esoteric and difficult to predict variables. But it’s also the hallmark of a pro. For all of these reasons, I try to be very open about who I am and how I’m wired as a member of the homo narrans species. If you’re familiar with psychometrics, my strength themes and other psychometrics will give you a sense of who Dave is.

Warning

All that said, hiring an editor, a book coach, or story shaman is not always the right decision.

Depending on where you and yours manuscript are in the development lifecycle, there can be many better (and cheaper) ways to gather feedback. Before you dive into an expensive relationship with an editor, there are some things to consider.

First, are you ready for deep feedback on your work?

If you think the answer is yes… Are you sure?

Often editorial feedback can be hard to process, especially if you’re earlier in your career or project than you think you are. But if you’re:

  1. sick of staring at your pages and/or
  2. you think you might be ready to pitch, query, or publish, it’s time to get feedback.

No? Good. Being self-aware and honest with YOU about your work and willingness to accept input is extremely important. Knowing how you’re wired as a writer is part of learning how and when to accept feedback on your writing. If you don’t know how you’re wired, I highly recommend the Better-Faster Academy of writing coaches. Becca and her team changed my life. Start with the Strengths for Writers 101 and work your way up from there.

Note: you might actually be ready for feedback even if you think the answer is no. Some of us (I’m looking at you perfectionists) will never feel quite ready, and that’s OK. If you’re going to publish, sooner or later, it’s time to get input.

If you’re stuck or sick of staring at your pages, it might be worth hiring a developmental editor or a writing coach to accelerate your progress, if you have the budget to do so.

However, whether the answer is yes or no, there may be other places to solicit input that are worth considering first. I’m always happy to take your money, but I’ll give you some suggestions in a second about where you might get story critique for free or less money than from me, but first… A note about pros.

A professional editor will always give you a perspective on the readiness of your manuscript for editing. If you or your work is NOT READY, a professional editor will not take your money. For example, if you choose to hire me sight unseen for a Diagnostic and submit your manuscript, if I think you’re not ready for a Diagnostic yet I WILL RETURN YOUR MONEY and give you some suggestions about what you need to do FIRST before you’re ready for an expensive Diagnostic.

Where else can you get feedback besides an editor like me?

Critique groups. These can be amazing or absurd and hilarious or an utter waste of time, depending on a lot of factors. If you’re budget constrained or very early in your writing journey, they can be a great place to start. If you have no idea where to find one or six, send me an email and I’ll hook you up with some ideas about where to find a level-appropriate group with a good vibe and good ethics. In my experience, though, if you have the money, a writing coach (or book shaman) will get you from where you are to a working story much, much faster and with less drama. Your call.

Writing classes and writing craft books, online or in person. A lot of the $20 online classes are a waste of time after you’ve finished your first book or nine, but up until that point, it’s worth learning in whatever mode works best for you and your budget. You don’t need a masters of fine arts (MFA) to write a great novel. In fact, most commercially successful authors do NOT have an MFA or even a bachelors in English. Gotta wonder why, eh? That’s the subject of another rant some other day. That said, I’m always buying and reading what we call craft books. They’re not about knitting or cross-stitch. They’re about the art of writing and storytelling. I have a list of recommended reading for writers here. Never stop reading about craft. Never. Even after you’re dead, keep reading craft books in heaven. It’s sometimes even worth reading the same book a second or more time. You’ll learn something new or different from every book and every re-read.

Writing contests. If you’re a masochist (or really desperate for validation), this is one way to gather input IF the contest provides feedback. Many contests only provide a score, if that. Read the rules carefully and gird your loins. In case it’s unclear, I don’t recommend them. I’ve judged more than a few contests as a board member of professional writers’ guilds and submitted to even more—I never got any useful feedback and a lot of heartache. They were never worth the price of admission, and often not even judged by people who like the genre you write. Some writers swear by contests for reasons I don’t understand, but 0 out of 10, I would not recommend.

Friends and family. This is dangerous, in my opinion, because it can destroy relationships unless your friends and family are professional writers and editors who are skilled at giving gentle, encouraging feedback. They’ll either hurt your feelings and/or provide useless input unless they’re serious fans of your niche—or—they’ll whitewash everything and tell you (incorrectly) that it’s magnificent. Seriously, if you like your spouse or partner or significant other, don’t ask them for input. Yet. Until you’ve both been through critique training, and probably some serious psychotherapy. You have been warned.

Waylay random strangers at the library or in a bookstore. This is not recommended due to the prevalence of police officers and the permanence of restraining orders. Ask me how I know.

Yourself. If you’re honest with yourself about your writing, you have an inkling about how it compares with the masterworks in your genre. Print it out and read it on paper at a coffee shop. Use Microsoft Word or another piece of software to read it aloud to you. Reading it differently than you normally write will allow your brain to see/hear it differently. Becoming your own editor is a skill that is hard to develop, but it is very valuable. (I give free lessons as part of every paid editorial engagement.) And, ultimately, self-editing is still not enough. You’ll need a pro sooner or later.

What do I do now?

If you’re still on the fence, send me an email and we can discuss asynchronously.

If you think you might need/want an editor, but aren’t sure if I bite, schedule a First Page Critique. (I only bite with consent, and even then not hard enough to break skin. Usually.)

If you’re sure you want a Story Grid Certified Editor, but aren’t sure whether you need a Diagnostic or an Intensive or something else, you can shoot me an email or read my next post about the various types of editing, some of which I do and some of which I don’t.