Dr. Author and Ms. Copy Editor—5 Tips on How to Change Hats Without Losing Your Mind
by Vicki Essex, soon-to-be-published Harlequin Superromance author
When it’s your job to copyedit other people’s writing, it can be exhausting, frustrating, even harrowing to write your own novels without being relentlessly critical of your own work.
An editor (whether it’s senior editor, copy editor, proofreader, etc.) works critically. She picks apart a sentence for structure, grammar, flow, meaning, and so forth. An author works creatively. She lets her words flow freely to tell her story and hopefully without inhibition.
The two are not mutually exclusive. I would hope every author is also a self-editor. But that’s a whole different blog post.
Here are some tips to separating your writer from your editor and for completing that WIP.
1. Write what you love. This is rule number one in all writing circles. If you don’t love writing about vampires, and you’re only writing that story because you’re following a trend to get published, you’re more likely to abandon that project long before you complete it. If your heart’s in writing that Ancient Egyptian steampunk teleplay, that’s what you should be writing. You have to love it, or else you’ll quickly grow to hate it.
2. BICHOK (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard). The only way you’re going to finish writing your own WIP is to actually sit down and write. That means taking time out of your life for writing and doing it regularly. A few strategies I’ve gleaned from others:
- Set yourself a daily or weekly word count goal
- Schedule writing time into your day—at least half an hour a day
- Fit writing time into your commute or however you can (no, don’t write while you drive—use a tape recorder, if you must, to dictate or transcribe notes)
- Wake up an hour earlier to get some writing time in
The key is persistence. It can be torturous to sit at a computer after spending a whole day reading over someone else’s work, but try to divorce yourself from everything you’ve been working on and delve into the world and characters you created. This is your chance to immerse yourself in your own fantasy.
3. Don’t sweat the small stuff…yet. I’m surprised by how many people get hung up on grammar, spelling and punctuation during the process of writing. A good grasp of the language is important, but when you start gnashing your teeth over technical details as you go, you create mental blocks to your creativity.
Part of an editor’s job is to find inconsistencies, fix the technical stuff, and craft a better story. But as a writer, your job is to tell a story, and to tell the best damned story you can. Worry about the conflict, characters, pacing and all that other good stuff you learn about in Writer’s Craft 101 (and 201 and 301…) Get your story down first. Then go back and iron out all the big wrinkles, and make sure you’ve got the right it’s or its down. A second, third or fourth pair of eyes wouldn’t hurt, either—a beta reader, critique partner or family member can catch mistakes you’ll miss even after the tenth edit. And if you’re that worried, hire a professional to do the copyediting.
4. Don’t look back in anger. Everyone has their own way of writing and working on a WIP—some write straight through, then go back to edit. Others edit as they write. I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong way, but the editor’s compunction is to change edit cut down remove fix whatever they read on the page, and editing while writing can kill your will to continue.
To avoid this black hole of despair, keep moving forward. If you have to read back to figure out where you are in the story, don’t read more than half a page. Minimize your edits and you won’t get yourself worked up about how something is not working. Get to the end of the story, then go back and revise. You’ll have a clearer picture of everything once you know where your characters end up.
5. Get a life. Your brain needs rest. After a long day editing at work, it can be difficult to get into a WIP. Writing requires a clear mind and a healthy spirit. There’s nothing worse than trying to write when you’re suffering from creative fatigue.
Resting includes anything that is not work:
- Time with loved ones (very important for your sanity)
- Physical activity (laundry and vacuuming counts)
- Sleep (my favorite)
- Reading (but only something you really, really want to read, and won’t take a red pen to)
No matter how much you enjoy writing, editing, critiquing, beta reading, etc., you need to do other things. In the long run, it will keep you sane and steadily writing.
Vicki Essex (@VickiEssex) worked as a proofreader at Harlequin for more than four years and is now a copy editor. Her first book will be published next year by Harlequin Superromance. Visit her at www.vickiessex.com.