Saturday, September 22, 2012

Why #Editing and #Proofreading Terrify Me (and it's not what you think)

Recently, I've been doing some editing and proofreading for other authors' work, and I'm a bit worried—and maybe even terrified—about how they will react to my changes and suggestions.

Earlier this year, I stopped editing for other authors, because I found, unfortunately, that it was more trouble than it was worth. I don't go into an edit thinking that I'm going to destroy someone, even though I will admit—and have done so many times—that my edits are harsh. I know that it takes someone with a thick skin to receive one of my edits, because I go after every detail. I edit spelling, punctuation, structure, etc. But most of all, I edit content. I make sure that 1+1=2. For example, in one piece I edited (names withheld, because this isn't about knocking anyone. It's about teaching, and examples are the best way to teach), a man arrived home and entered the house, and then a couple of paragraphs later, he entered the house again. In another story, it's raining, but a few minutes later, the ground is covered with snow. Obviously, these are content errors, and I draw the author's attention to those. I try to be objective but assertive, and sometimes I will throw in my reaction as a reader so that the author can see how their story is affecting me, the reader, which I think is pretty important to know.

So, what's the problem? you might ask. The problem is, through experience, I have learned that this isn't what authors want to hear. I am literally terrified about turning this proofread back in because I found sooo much that still needed to be edited (the editing was supposed to have been completed at this point), and I'm afraid I'll receive the same reaction I've received in the past to the suggestions I've made, which is basically pretty violent and severe. For instance, last year my "best friend" posed as two other people on Facebook without telling me, and then proceeded to pull everyone I was close to aside and bash me in private chats, telling horrible lies about me and ripping me apart to everyone in a calculated attempt to destroy my writing reputation.

Why? Because I had given her a less than glowing, honest critique about a story she was writing. I hadn't been mean about it. I hadn't called her names or anything like that. I simply pointed out where I thought the story was weak and offered suggestions for how it could be strengthened. I actually thought we'd had a healthy discussion about the story, as a matter of fact. I guess I was wrong. Mind you, this was my best friend at the time, and she got so mental over that one, tiny, simple review, she practically destroyed me in every writing circle I was in, and her deception and plotting was so far-reaching, deep, and severe, I honestly don't think I'll ever fully recover from the damage she inflicted. I had to leave one writing group I was in and still feel like many of the people she talked to believe to this day the lies she told them about me.

It was only a freak accident that caused me to find out that the person doing this to me was my best friend, and when I called her on it after she'd been at it for nearly two months, she tried to deny it before finally going crazy on me. We haven't spoken since, but thank God my editor didn't fall for the games, because my ex-bestie went after her the hardest, trying to turn her on me.

So, yeah, after an experience like that, which was the absolute worst thing anyone has ever done to me, I get a bit gun-shy when it comes to offering critique, doing edits, providing feedback, and the like. Because, not only did ex-bestie go postal on me, but I've had other authors ask, "What do you think of this?" and when I give an honest answer, no matter how hard I've tried to soften up the negatives and glorify the positives, 9 out of 10 times, they blow up. I've seen some interesting things get posted on Facebook after I've given these folks the feedback they asked for, and it's clear they're reacting pretty badly to what I've said. If you don't want an honest answer, don't ask for it. That's all I can say about that. Because I can't lie. I just can't.

Consequently, I don't offer my opinion anymore, and I don't do edits or proofreads unless someone is very clear up front about what to expect and assures me they're cool with that. But this is one proofing situation I wasn't able to get out of due to the circumstances, and my heart is very heavy right now. I really don't want to piss anyone off. That's not my intent. I just want their stories to be the best they can be. When I edit/proofread, I do so from both a reader's POV, as well as from a writer's POV. I am advocating the reader while I edit and proofread, and I know that I know my stuff when it comes to the writing part (I'm not going to list all my credentials, but I have them), but I'm tired of being accused of hurting people's feelings and of purposely trying to make them look bad when I'm not.

I know that an author's story is their baby. I know this because I'm a writer, too. And maybe I just take a different perspective on the whole proofing and critiquing thing, because I love when my beta readers tear up  my work. As outside readers, they see what I can't. They are the ones to show me how readers will react, and if they react badly to parts of my books, readers as a whole will, too. I just had a fabulous ongoing, week-long dialogue with one of my betas over a component of my latest story that she hated, and she let me know she hated it. She pulled no punches, and I love her for that. Thank God she did, too, because SHE WAS RIGHT! My betas are right 99% of the time when they react negatively to something in my stories, but if I closed myself off every time they gave me negative feedback, I would never learn how to make my stories better. And if she had held back her reaction for fear of how I would react to her, I wouldn't be overhauling a character right now in my latest story...and the character NEEDED the overhaul (which is coming along fabulously, I might add, so yes, good call, awesome beta reader. Well played indeed). But it was only through my open conversations with my beta that I was able to finally see how this character needed to change to be more likable.

I guess I just assume all authors are like that. Maybe I'm wrong for thinking that way, but I believe every author worth their salt wants to get better at their craft and should be open to honest critique and feedback, no matter how it's presented (but I do try to be objective and professional, never issuing personal slurs or insults).

Whether authors are open or not, I can't go half-assed on an edit or proofread. It's not in my nature to cheat the system. That's not fair to the author I'm editing, but more importantly, it's not fair to the readers who will ultimately read their stories. And when it comes right down to it, I edit first for the reader and second for the author. And that's pretty much how I write, too: My characters come first, because it's their story. My readers are a close second, because the story is for their entertainment, not mine. And my needs and opinions come dead last. I don't write to entertain myself. I write for the reader and to tell my characters' stories. I am sooo not a part of the equation except to be the vessel that connects reader to character and vice versa. If I can't do that, I've failed, and I want anyone who's not feeling connected to speak up and tell me why, damn it, because I don't want to fail.

Okay, at this point I'm rambling. Ugh. The point is, I'm terrified to turn in this proof/edit.

Thanks for listening.

15 comments:

  1. My friend/writing partner is the best and I couldn't have gotten my books to the publishable stage without her. Like you she pointed out every little thing including inconsistencies in story line. I was and am grateful for her critiquing. It's such a shame that the writers you worked with didn't take your comments in the same light. And bashing you is beyond understanding.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and for the supportive comment. :) Much appreciated. Happy Sunday to you.

      Delete
  2. You have a healthy attitude toward your own writing. It takes some writers a while to figure out that their stories are not 'them,' and a critique is not an insult. Some never do. If all a writer wants is for someone to praise their work, they should color a picture and show it to their mother. To get better, we need to hear the truth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, Tammy. It's funny because one of my friends told me that I needed to tone down my honesty because it could make people mad, and then that friend turned around and called something in one of my pieces "stupid." I was like, "I may be honest, but I never call anyone's work 'stupid.'" I keep personal comments like that out of my feedback and remain professional. So, maybe it's not me that has the problem, but it doesn't make my task easier. :) Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Have a lovely day.

      Delete
  3. Editing and proofing is so painful I only do it for business writing now. You definitely sound like the person I want editing/proofing MY fiction though.
    Sophie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Sophie. Maybe someday after my day job ends (it's a contract gig), I'll start editing again, but will be very selective about who I work with.

      Delete
  4. I'm very sorry that happened to you. As a writer I always strive to improve and I know I have a lot of hurdles to overcome. I try very hard to get honest feedback because I want my stories to be the best they can be, and that means listening to people when they express what they like and what they don't like.

    I still have a long way to go as an author, so I'm grateful when my editors come in and work their magic. They tell me -why- they do what they do and in doing so I learn to avoid those things in the future. I've grown so much since I've become a published author because of my betas and editors.

    I have one novel scheduled for release in two weeks that was originally 100k. My editor suggested I get rid of most of the original ending because it felt like an unnecessary add-on. So I got rid of it and you know what? It really does feel a lot better and the scene I cut out can be put in the next book of the series. I know authors who would have screamed bloody murder if they'd been in my shoes at having to cut out 3k from their novel. And I did like it, and I did feel that those scenes were important, but he was right, they didn't need to be in the book.

    But that's not to say I have super thick skin. It does sting a little bit when someone says "I hate this" or when my editor sounded annoyed at my repetitiveness. But that's not the editor's fault and more my own personal demons at play. As a writer, I'm terrified of being a burden to the editor with all of my mistakes, so when they seem annoyed or irritable, I feel terrible and blame myself for not being better or more skilled. And I do get annoyed sometimes when I go through the edits, but then I get over it and feel better overall for the experience.

    I would love to have someone to really sit down with like you seem to have with your friend(not your ex-bestie). I do have a beta, but she's someone I send my most polished work to for review, not someone I brainstorm ideas with or try to get feedback on concepts, characters, and story as it's a WIP. I like her because she's very critical, but I really need something more.

    I hope you'll feel better about critiquing people's work again someday, although I have a feeling you'll always be just a bit cautious, and there's nothing wrong with that. Many authors -are- sensitive and can't take anyone telling them their work isn't perfect, and those are people to avoid unless you don't have a choice. Annnd I rambled on way too much. Sorry!



    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nope, you didn't ramble on too much at all. That's why this blog is here, to chatter away. I love getting feedback. :)

      It's great that you are so open to critique and suggestions from the outside. It really is the best way to improve your writing. I use track changes in Word when I edit/proofread, and I always leave comments about why I'm suggesting this change or that one, or why I removed a comma, added one in, or what have you. This is where I feel like some authors get testy. It's as if they don't want to hear the explanation, but without the explanation, they won't know why I've done what I've done. And when they are making the same mistake over and over (putting a comma before a prepositional phrase, for example), at that point, I think I need to explain that commas don't automatically go in front of prepositions. The author obviously needs to learn this or they wouldn't be putting commas in front of every single preposition. I'm not trying to lecture them or talk down to them, just enlighten them.

      I guess I try to pull more out of them...make them think rather than just tell them what to do and how to write it. I've been down that road before with authors who just want me to rewrite their stories for them without learning how to write. I can think of one in particular who said she learned by me correcting her mistakes, but then four stories later, she was still making the same mistakes, so my rewriting for her wasn't helping her learn at all, but was rather giving her a nicely rewritten story that I saw no profit from having rewritten. When I stopped rewriting for her and tried to do a strict edit, the shit hit the fan. That's when I said "no more." I stopped editing on the spot. I'm not an editor to REWRITE an author's story. I'm an editor to help an AUTHOR write a better story.

      I very rarely get angry or annoyed during an edit. What does anger/annoy me is: 1) when an author is seemingly writing to show off their knowledge of big words that require a dictionary to understand and ends up talking down to and insulting readers, and 2) when an author illustrates they don't want to become a better writer and simply wants someone (an editor) to — basically — ghost write their stories for free.

      Good luck with your writing Catriana. It sounds like you're on the right path. :) Thanks for stopping by today.

      Delete
  5. My dad had a red pen. I fucking hated that red pen, because it would be nearly out of ink by the time he finished proofing any of my papers for high school/college. And some of this was before word processors. So a single mistake meant retyping the whole thing. But you know what? I learned from that. I learned how to take criticism, (not always delivered kindly) and grow from it. A few years later my dad started to write again, and he realized just how much red bothered him, so when my daughter asked him for help before he passed away he would use blue or green font because "some people just get upset seeing the color red." My dad had two novels published. And I have the manuscripts for a half dozen more. What your "friend" did was horrible. What you do is honest. And I would rather deal with the honest than the horrible. *hugs*

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. :) And what a lovely story. Thanks for sharing it.

      Delete
  6. What a *wonderful* post. Really wonderful. I can't say enough.

    I've had people ask me for critique and I love doing it. The problem is that I assume they want the very best possible. That means saying things such as, "This character would NEVER do that" or "This makes no sense." It has always made me think and learn a LOT to figure out why they think that and what I didn't convey clearly enough. In one recent case, I initially said, "I don't think you understood. She did it because of X and Y and Z," and I moved on. A week later I re-read the bit and realized that the critiquer was dead-on. How fortunate we are to have honest, constructive criticism!

    People also rarely realize what an enormous amount of time and effort it takes to write a critique and just want to be told that they are awesome. Better egos don't always make better books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for saying that, Ana. I was actually worried about posting this entry. I didn't want to seem like a whiner or a belly-acher, but rather just wanted to expose my fear and put it out there as a potential means to educate authors that it's just as hard to give a critique as it is to receive one, maybe even harder. Because I KNOW I'm stripping bare their precious baby and know that anything negative can hurt their pride and ego.

      Perhaps remembering that this is a business will help authors detach. It's not personal. It's business. I keep my comments professional, and they need to be just as professional in accepting them. If we remember this is a business, and that we're all in this together to help our customers (the readers), then I don't think there'd be as much angry reaction and ego posturing.

      Thanks for stopping by today. :)

      Delete
  7. I remember when you went through all that crap with your former best friend! (You talked to me about it on my roleplay account actually) And it was completely wrong of her to do too!

    Any writer who wants to publish (as a professional or an amateur) will probably not like the edits regardless. But, those who are serious authors, and should be readers as well, understand that it is necessary. I'm terrified of asking anyone to proofread my work. But, I would never take it out on the person who did proofread it. They did the job I asked them to do. I would love for you to proofread my writing. Yeah, my feelings will probably get hurt but my writing would be better. And to me, better writing outweighs the hurt feelings. I would get over it and I would still consider you my friend. And I wouldn't attack you either for it. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Amy. I'm pretty sure I know which roleplay character you were. :)

      The feedback I've received to this post has been enlightening and unexpected in a good sort of way. I never expected this, but I'm so grateful for it. And as I've read and responded to each person who's taken the time to reply here, I've learned a few things about myself, as well as about the people surrounding me, and it's been eye-opening. It seems you've all helped me learn something even more about myself and what I want to achieve with this whole "writing thing." :) So, thank you to everybody who's participated in this discussion. You've all made a huge impact, believe me.

      Delete
  8. No, you sound like my kind of editor. I really want someone who gives me the whole truth, especially with ideas for fixing. You sound perfect. :)

    ReplyDelete