If I asked most people what they love about writing, I bet they wouldn’t say “editing”. I can’t imagine anybody saying: “Oh, the fifth time I read my manuscript for typos and inconsistencies was just magical.” Likewise, if I asked somebody why they wanted to become a writer, I really doubt they would say it was because they would get to do so much really exciting editing; however, I bet if I asked writers what was one of their most valued skills, they would agree that editing ranked highly.
So, I did what I often do if I want to learn about something. I bought a book about editing and read…most of it. Seriously, I read the parts that seemed to have the most to do with the type of stories I like to write. If you’re interested in reading it yourself, it’s called “The Complete Guide to Editing Your Fiction”, by Michael Seidman. It was a good read: informative but also less dry than one would think. This book had some wonderful insights into dialogue and how it helps develop characters. That’s probably the greatest among the many things I tried to absorb when reading it. I find dialogue to be something that really sets apart good books from great reads. Sometimes I’ll pick up a book, after reading the jacket, and flip through it. Without having much more than a basic idea of the plot, I’ll locate conversations among the characters to see if they sound consistent and believable. If they don’t, chances are there will be a lot of other elements in the book that will irritate me. I want characters to speak like people naturally do. Granted, people speak differently, but the dialogue should tell me something about the people who are talking, both in what emotions they’re feeling and subtler things, like how well they know each other.
I can’t speak for other authors, but I can tell you that I don’t hate editing. I like to think that every time I polish a story, it gets better. That’s true most of the time, and I think whomever receives my story ends up agreeing that it was worth the time I invested that final review. It can be extremely rewarding work, but it can also be painful. For instance, the story “Catalyst”, included in Nonlocal Science Fiction #1, originally included a much longer beginning involving the escape made by the main characters. I axed the whole thing. It hurt. It was probably a few hours of work and some material that I really liked, but I felt it was better as a shorter story. I thought it read better when the reader was plunked into the middle of the action. My editor and publisher decided that the story needed more information about the relationship between the two characters, so I spliced in some back-story from the original beginning to explain their history. It goes to show, that as important as it is for an author to edit their works, it’s just as important to have someone else read them and offer some editing advice.
Editing isn’t as much fun as writing. It’s hard work, requires discipline and is easily the thing that makes me most want to procrastinate. It’s also what makes me consider writing far more than a hobby for me. It’s something to take pride in, like any other time-consuming project that requires attention to detail and perseverance. It’s a job I love. If I want to seriously pursue writing as a career, there’s no better way than making sure I edit everything with just as much passion as originally stirred me to write it.