Whole-Picture Editing

I’m a pretty organized/obsessive person when it comes to work. I have systems to keep track of current projects, to file work that’s finished, and to keep an eye on tracked changes (I save every version, both incoming and outgoing).

It helps me keep my sanity. I read a lot of manuscripts in any given month. And I jump through a lot of hoops to make sure you and I both meet our deadlines. I’ll even try to rearrange my production schedule to accommodate all sorts of changes on your end, both personal and professional. I know how this life thing can change on a dime.

But … no, I can’t send half your fiction* edit now. Even if I knew what that might look like, I cannot send an edit in pieces. Not a chapter at a time, not the first half, not everything but the last two chapters. It’s all or nothing, kids.**

Here are some good reasons why I can’t comment.

1 That big plot twist you’re saving for the end. It changes everything.

2 All that great foreshadowing I won’t appreciate until I get to … the event that requires it.

3 The timeline’s accuracy (or inaccuracy) may not be apparent.

4 The myriad times I scroll back to check details, revising my thoughts.

5 Some problems—continuity, repetition, lack of plot—aren’t obvious yet.

6 It’s difficult to see the nuanced development of theme in the early pages.

And that’s just the beginning.

The thing is, I read your manuscript twice before I even start writing up the editorial notes—the first read’s for story, the second’s for craft and structure. As I write up the notes for you, I’ll reread big swaths of the manuscript a third time, and then I’ll scroll through and check all those margin notes, stopping here and there to read again.

I don’t know how other editors do it; this is just the process that has developed at my desk over the last twelve years.

And this is what I’ve learned from my process: the beginning and the end are inextricably connected. I know, I know: Duh!—but I mean more than the obvious. Without that connection of beginning to end, I just don’t have the whole picture. Sometimes a manuscript is slow to start but is redeemed by what happens near the end; that slow start had a good reason I couldn’t see yet (or it can be tightened up). Sometimes a manuscript I am very enthusiastic about in the early chapters falls apart on the way to the end (but we can more than likely fix that).

There’s another part of the process, too, that I don’t like to rush: writing the notes. You’re a writer, so you already know the vast benefits obtained from putting pen to paper. Writing clarifies thoughts, sparks creative ideas, makes connections you hadn’t seen, helps problem solving, unlocks intuition. I am often astonished at what is revealed to me when I start writing down my thoughts and ideas about your manuscript. So if you ask for notes before I’m ready, you’re not getting the best I have to offer, because you’ve deprived me of thinking time.

Consider that.

If you’ve ever bugged me for my “initial reaction”—and I don’t mind; I get asked for that a lot—you’ve probably gotten a polite email from me that said something like, “It’s not my policy to comment at all until I’ve finished my second read. So just remember how much I love my job, and we’ll talk soon.” Process is a good thing.

It will be worth the wait.

* I really prefer not to send a nonfiction edit in pieces either. The specific reasons are different but the result is the same.
** Yes, I offer a first-chapter service, but I need your detailed synopsis in order to get that beginning-to-end connection.


Tweet: No, I can’t send half your edit now. I have a process.
Tweet: This is what I’ve learned from my process: the beginning & the end are connected.

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.”


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  1. I KNEW I’d show up on your blog sooner or later. Oops. And deepest apologies for that last first draft I turned in. ;) You did an awesome edit despite my missing scenes!

  2. Sacha Black says:

    YES.YES.YES The rants are back – bloody love you and your chats with writers. They both terrify me and make me snort drink through my nose with laughter!

  3. […] second-guesser that I am, I first wondered if I was out of the loop. I mean, I work a lot, I have a process, and that means I am intimate with Microsoft Word and track changes. But it’s been a dozen years […]

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  1. […] second-guesser that I am, I first wondered if I was out of the loop. I mean, I work a lot, I have a process, and that means I am intimate with Microsoft Word and track changes. But it’s been a dozen years […]