Over the years I’ve discovered there are two types of writers.
The first writes a manuscript, and then rewrites it over and over; he’s never quite satisfied, but it’s been through several drafts. He’s probably run it through a critique group (because he’s serious about his writing and knows a critique or other writers’ group is an important tool for self-improvement). By the time he turns it in for editing, he feels pretty good about it.
The second dashes off a manuscript, rereads it, decides it’s good enough, and turns it in to his publisher, who sends it to the editor (me). He spends a lot of time formatting things—chapter heads and such—to make the manuscript look good, but doesn’t bother with spell check or any other type of self-edit. Because the editor’s going to wave her magic wand and fix everything, right?
Well, no. That is, she will certainly try. But if she is distracted by all the Writing 101 mistakes, if she is all bogged down in the (let’s be honest here) crappy writing, you’re not getting the value of having an editor at all.
A first draft is simply not ready for an editor, kids. It’s … it’s unfinished. An editor friend of mine calls it word vomit. In her instructional book Bird by Bird, writer Anne Lamott calls it the “shitty first draft.” I call it a work in progress (WIP).
But no matter what you call it, I would prefer you not send it to me. (Did I just say that out loud?) If you run out of time, please, ask your publisher for an extension.* Don’t send me that shitty first draft and think I’m going to fix it for you.
I love being part of the creative process. But—as the old saying goes—I’m not your mother. I don’t want to clean up your mess, I want to collaborate with you. I can’t do that if you don’t send me the best you’ve got. And you won’t get the best I’ve got unless you do.
*Managing your time in order to meet your deadlines is another post. You should make every effort to be on time, because it costs your publisher dearly to reschedule editors, typesetters, the (printing) press, marketing campaigns, and so on.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”