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What Editing Taught Me About My Own Writing
Contributor
Written by
Janine Kovac
October 2017
Publishing
Contributor
Written by
Janine Kovac
October 2017
Publishing

I thought that overseeing my writing group’s anthology as a self-published book would interfere with my own writing. Instead it made me a stronger writer. 

Two years ago I proposed to my group the Write On Mamas that we self-publish an anthology of our essays. To sweeten the deal, I offered to oversee the project from beginning to end.

I didn’t know the project would take two years from the spark of inspiration to the actual printing (we went to print last Friday). If I had known, I might not have volunteered to lead the editorial team.

We spent nearly eighteen months wrangling essays from our members and then the three of us met every Friday in a cafe in Oakland, discussing essays and offering suggestions to our writers. Which meant that time previously allocated toward my own writing was now being used to revise someone else’s.

At first this felt like a detour; ultimately, though, I found that wearing my editor’s hat actually helped me become a stronger writer.

What I Learned

Here’s what I learned as an editor that I now apply to my own writing:

  1. Something can be beautifully written and still not work. And if it’s not working, sometimes it’s better to just delete it.
  2. Sometimes simple words are better words.
  3. Jumping around in time is hard to follow.
  4. It’s easier to revise a piece that’s 80% done than it is to revise a piece you thought was finished.
  5. If you can find out what works in a piece, you can identify how to make the weaker parts better.
  6. It’s not personal.
  7. Deadlines are important.
  8. It’s not enough to write something beautiful. You have to tie it up with a bow.
  9. You always need another set of eyes.
  10. It takes more than good writing to be a good writer.

Too often in my own work I’ve gotten bogged down in my expectations for my writing and lost track of what I was trying to say. In other words, what I’ve wanted my writing to be has often prevented me from seeing what was actually there. I’ve left in passages I liked even though they were taking my chapter in the wrong direction. But when I helped other writers revise their work, I only concentrated on what was written on the page--and it gave me a clearer focus into each individual story.

When I finally did go back to my own book, I found I was more objective about my writing and that I was more compassionate, too. I was more willing to share my rough drafts with my colleagues, more willing to consider their feedback, and more appreciative of their help.

Last Friday I clicked the “submit” button on our CreateSpace project, and voila!--our anthology was published. Now I’m in the next phase of learning by doing: sending out press releases, organizing book launch parties and blog tours, asking bookstores to carry the book on consignment. Certainly lessons I’ll apply to my own book when it’s finished.

About the book:

Titled Mamas Write: 29 Tales of Truth, Wit, and Grit, twenty-four moms (and one dad) explore how parenting shaped them as writers, how they make time to write, how they record their memorable parenting moments, and more. Mamas Write is now available for sale on Amazon and in select Bay Area bookstores.

About our group:

Founded out of a desire to connect, the Write On Mamas is a rapidly growing group of more than 50 writing moms (and that one dad) who meet online and in person to read, write, revise, and share. Members are published authors, journalists, bloggers, and poets, as well as those beginning their writing journey. Based primarily in Northern California, Write On Mamas also hail from Oregon, Minnesota, Maryland, and Calgary. 

Find out more at writeonmamas.com.

 

* This post was originally published in April 2014.

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Comments
  • Alissa Johnson Writing

    This is excellent. I really like 4 and 5. Thanks for sharing!

  • Alissa Johnson Writing

    This is excellent. I really like 4 and 5. Thanks for sharing!

  • Hi Gillian. What's your project? Nice to see you here and thanks for joining the discussion.

  • GillianAlex

    Wow... Your list of the ten things that you learned while editing are spot on. They are the exact ten things that I learned from the editor that is working on my project. My favorite is #10 - soo soo true!

  • Skye Blaine

    Yes, I went back to a memoir that I wrote ten years ago. I let it cool for five years, and now have gone through the whole thing again in two writing groups. It's much tighter and cleaner now.

  • Clare Lavery

    You are right Janine because you can go further without feeling upset. I felt I could tone down any anger or anything jarring- that process was satisfying. I also noticed my sentences grew shorter as my distance from the emotions improved, without losing the message in the piece!

  • I have tried this, Clare. I went back to a piece I'd written two years ago. Interesting how I was able to dive deeper into the emotional experience of what I was trying to convey.

  • Clare Lavery

    Interesting to edit a piece you wrote some years ago as you are in a very different place. The whole process is empowering if your voice is stronger and your emotions in check. has anyone done this before?

  • Clare Lavery

    How true- especially the need to simplify- less is more!!

  • Thanks for your comments, Meg. And not only do we need another set of eyes, every once in awhile we need a NEW set of eyes. We had about 6 different people proofread the final copy.

  • Meg Bortin

    Hi Janine. I've been an editor (in journalism) for most of my professional life, and have found that those skills come in very handy when editing literary writing by others -- and sometimes myself, although that's much more difficult! I'd vote for number 9 on your list to become number 1. Everyone needs another set of eyes, preferably several other sets. And I'd also like to second your comment that it's best to show your work before its completely done. Then the writer may revise with the editor's suggestions in mind. This method worked brilliantly for me when working on my recently published book, Desperate to Be a Housewife. I showed the manuscript to many people, who were kind enough to comment and help me improve the writing.

  • Thanks, Nora. I'm guilty of over use of the em-dash. 

  • Skye, yes, #6 could certainly be number 1! I'd heard that a million times but didn't believe it until I was on the other side. (Of course, since harsher advice seems to go over better when it's sandwiched in the middle, it's #6!)

  • Excellent points. I've learned a lot through editing because I'll stop and look a thing up in Chicago Manual of Style for someone else when I don't for myself. And I've developed an allergy to ellipses. I see a lot of overuse of the  . . . +

  • Skye Blaine

    A wonderful list of 10. I can't think of another one to add. I wonder if number 6 should be number 1??