Learning by Editing

“Would you like to edit a novel I’m working on?” a man asked me. “Also, I would like you to have free reign to make any changes you deem necessary.” I’m honored. For not only is this man a friend, but he’s  a university professor, and he’s asking me to be his editor. Sure, part of it is because he wants me to learn the editing and rewriting process, but it’s still an honor because he sees my potential. It goes without saying that I seized  the opportunity.

As authors we are always trying to improve our craft, and perhaps there isn’t any better way than becoming an editor for someone. Some may disagree. After all, with our own projects taking up our time, why engage in editing someone else’s work? Simply put, it helps us to improve our own writing while we work on improving someone else’s. If such a straightforward answer isn’t convincing enough, then here is a short list to add some substantial claims as to why an author should take on the role of editor for others.

  1. Improving punctuation, grammar, and spelling:  I would love to say that I am a master of proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but that wouldn’t be true. Commas are the primary perpetrators of my writing ailments. Many times they seem simple to place, other times I just don’t know where to put one. Nonetheless, editing has helped sharpen my skills when it comes to punctuation, spelling, and grammar, as well as finding and rooting out redundant words.
  2. Learning to craft better characters: This can happen in one of two ways. The writers who have been hired may find that the writers that they are editing for have a better grasps on how to flesh out a character. Learning from a writer who is a pro at characterization can help the beginning writer who is in the process of editing. On the other hand, maybe the client the writer is editing for has incredibly weak characters, devoid of emotion, motivation, fears, and passions. In that case, the beginning writer can offer the client feedback, which will be a benefit to both parties. Either way, the writer learns how to create better characters when editing for someone else.
  3. Developing a feel for fluid storytelling: This partly goes back to point one. As previously mentioned, one has to learn to avoid redundancy. While writing, I have learned that I have often repeated the same idea, worded differently, in two to three sentences or in an extra paragraph. Or I have used the same word one too many times. Editing for someone has taught me how to trim down the fat by cutting out unnecessary extra sentences and paragraphs that repeat the same concept, as well as how to substitute a different synonym to avoid repetition.
  4. How to engage the reader’s attention: Does the story come to life, or does it lie flat and dead upon the pages? If it’s the latter, how does one breathe life into it? A good novel or short story must have the ability to enrapture the reader, transcending him or her into another realm beyond this one, or be able to help the reader identify with the story if it’s a realistic one. Flat writing can’t do this. I can’t adequately describe flat writing, but one recognizes it when one reads it. Seeing such when editing can help writers know how to improve not just the work of their client, but their own.

In short, by editing for another writer, I have been learning how to properly edit my own work. I have not just seen the flaws in my client’s, but I have seen what’s wrong with my own and how I can improve it. Ironically, I would be surprised if this post could use some more editing.

(C) Jonathan Scott Griffin

The Purpose of “An Author’s Travails”

When we were young we were natural storytellers, concocting tall tales to tell our friends and our parents.  During that brief moment of childhood, we are a temporary microcosm of primitive man, telling stories not on cave walls using pigments, but upon paper using crayons and markers. Within our small frames is the soul of ancient mythopoeic thought, enabling us to see the world. We anthropomorphosis the world around us, everything from the animals to the plants. We tell outlandish stories to our parents with gusto, taking upon us the mantle of bards. Mankind was born to tell stories.

Yet, as many people age, that self-confidence in storytelling, endemic within children, wanes. Practicality takes over passion. It’s not to say that people cease to enjoy storytelling. Whether someone likes to read novels or comic books, or watch television shows, or go to the movies, there is an element within all of us that crave a good story. Except many become the listeners instead of the tellers.

Then there are those who never grow up, who still yearn to tell outlandish stories of fantasy and magic. Others do grow up but they are analytical, suffering under the burden of life to pound out their pain upon paper in the form of intensely emotional character-driven drama. Some possess the hearts of explorers and scientists, asking what could be, as they craft words into spaceships to explore the cosmos, or mold their thoughts into cities of steel populated by androids. Then there are those who are gifted with the ability to paint a picture with poetry, they being like those in Norse myths who drank from the divine mead of the gods. Each person in these groups is their own bard, knowledgeable in their own subjects.

Regardless, those who remain as storytellers yearn to be authors so that their words may be memorialized. But each one faces steep uphill battles in terms of gaining recognition. Such thoughts hit me during my middle school years when I decided I wanted to be an author. I had stories to tell, and I wanted to share them with the world. Back then I was under the mistaken impression that it wouldn’t be a challenge. All I had to do was sit down and type away on the computer, and then submit a finished manuscript to a publisher who would readily accept it. If it were only that easy.

For I learned that writing is not just tapping away on the keys, but how words and sentences are formulated to flow smoothly, while the plots of stories are crafted in a way to draw the reader in. It’s about constant writing and rewriting, up into the hours of the night, sometimes for days, weeks, or months on end, as the first draft is hardly ever perfect. It’s about knowing that it won’t be just admirers reading ones work, but detractors as well, in which the writer has to learn to take criticism whether it be negative or constructive. I’ve had to learn firsthand that one is liable to get more rejection slips from publishers than they are to get green lights to publish their work. In short, writing is an emotionally taxing journey as much as it is a joy.

The purpose of this blog is three-fold. One is to document my own writing and to keep my fans alert with the status of my novels, poetry, short stories, and their publications. The second is to explore the art and style of writing, its history and the philosophy behind it. And finally, I would hope that this blog acts as an inspiration for writers by giving them advice and encouragement.

So, sit back, relax, and be inspired. After all, as writers we are all in this together.