I was recently approached by Niamh Clune over at Plum Tree Books about undertaking a weekly sojourn through all things editing, and I thought, sure, why not! Of course, on second thought, I realized that much of what I do as an editor is informed by my work as a writer – even when I edit others. As such, it is internalized and occasionally idiosyncratic, certainly not the sort of thing I normally ramble on about. So, bear with me; this should be an interesting journey for all of us.
As an activity and a passion, editing, like writing, runs the gamut from macro to micro, from broad strokes on plot and character to the minutia of comma v. semi-colon.
Personally, I think it’s best to start big – so big that you’re not even dealing with your own work. To that end, my advice for today: Read.
Read everything and anything. The classics, the paper, your favorite guilty genre pleasure. Read Chekhov for dialogue, Christie for plot, dictionaries for joy, and Shakespeare because he’s Shakespeare! Whatever strikes your fancy. Become a sponge, absorbing what works and wringing out what doesn’t. Internalize the basics of tense agreement, point of view, and active v. passive voice. I assure you, it is a hell of a lot more fun this way than sitting through a grammar class (which may teach you the rules, but not necessarily how to use them, let alone break them).
When you’re read-out, treat yourself to a clear, inspired mind: go to a museum or cafe or wildlife park. Look at art and animals and people, how they shimmer and move and connect. For it is all connected, be it words on a page or life in the world. That is the heart of our storytelling. It is not only good for the spirit, but will help you return to your words with invigorated eyes.
And then, at the end of the day, if you’re not too weary, thumb through Strunk and White’s Elements of Style for good measure.
But more on that next Tuesday.