Please welcome developmental editor Tiffany Yates Martin to Writer Unboxed today! Tiffany reached out recently with an offer to write a piece for us on developing a stronger editorial sensibility, and we were immediately intrigued. She wrote:
Editing is something so many authors dread, but to me it’s where the magic happens. Like any other part of learning this craft it’s a skill that improves with practice–but it can be really hard to practice it objectively in our own work. I’ve found that authors don’t always realize how much value there is in editing others’ work and seeing it edited.
More about Tiffany from her bio:
Developmental editor Tiffany Yates Martin is privileged to help authors tell their stories as effectively, compellingly, and truthfully as possible. In more than 25 years in the publishing industry she’s worked both with major publishing houses and directly with authors (through her company FoxPrint Editorial), on titles by New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestsellers and award winners as well as newer authors. She presents editing and writing workshops for writers’ groups, organizations, and conferences and writes for numerous writers’ sites and publications.
How to Train Your Editor Brain
One of the hardest skills for a writer to master is editing her own writing. Assessing your work objectively when you are so deeply familiar with it can feel like trying to do your own brain surgery—but it’s a skill you can learn.
The best way I know of to switch on “editor brain” is to see others’ work edited. This is because you automatically come to others’ work with the mental and emotional distance it can be so hard to achieve with your own writing. With someone else’s story, you see—and evaluate—only what’s there, a crucial skill to develop in editing your own writing, spotting the things you’re often blind to in your own work.
Here are some of my best tips for how to do that:
Find a crit group—and home in on its hidden value
Participating in a critique group with other writers offers a regular opportunity to learn to analyze and assess effective writing (with a number of caveats, primarily that you find one that’s supportive and constructive, among lots of other baseline requirements; a bad crit group can do more damage to writers than almost anything else. Here’s a great article on red flags for unhelpful crit groups).
Yes, you’ll get the chance to receive feedback on your own work—revealing potential flaws you may never have considered—and gain direct experience critiquing others’ work. But the hidden value of a critique group is the opportunity to listen to critiques of others’ work. Observing multiple critiques of the same submission is an invaluable way to see not only what objectively works and doesn’t in a piece of writing, but to notice subjective differences as well—one reader’s Romeo and Juliet is another’s Fifty Shades of Grey.
Learning to edit your own writing is also about knowing when to stick with your vision even if it doesn’t work for every beta reader, and those variations of opinion are a great way to see that firsthand.
Attend R&Cs at writers conferences—and be a voyeur
At writers conferences, sit in on as many R&Cs (read-and-critiques) as you can. Watching an experienced editor, agent, or accomplished author go over in detail what’s not working in a story excerpt as well as what is—equally important!—is a fantastic way to learn to see what they see. (You can see an example of one of mine here.)
Pay attention to what jumps out at these industry pros as they evaluate out loud. Often these R&Cs focus on the “macroedit” areas—the foundations of good storytelling. Notice, for instance, that the first thing many will point out is whether anything is actually happening, and if it is, whether they are invested enough in your characters to care. Notice how frequently they may point out that the story needs more suspense or momentum or higher stakes (or beautifully creates them). Those are the basic building blocks for effective writing, and you’ll be surprised how readily you spot where these elements are and aren’t working as you listen to other people’s work read aloud. It’s a great way to learn to apply these insights to your own work.