The Writer’s Craft – The Glory of an Editor, Part 2: The Book Emerges!

(Silverdale, Washington; Sept. 14, 2020) – I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: writing a book is a solitary endeavour, but publishing a book requires a team effort.

Editors are as fundamental to the writing process as the writer is. I first spoke about the glory of an editor in my column on Aug. 31st (https://sparks1524.com/2020/08/31/the-writers-craft-the-glory-of-an-editor/). The past couple of weeks have only reinforced my opinion.

Proud Lion’s course to publication encountered dangerously heavy seas when a “life happens” event upended my carefully planned timetable. After securing Jerry’s agreement to edit the manuscript back in June, I set the hard date for publication for Sept. 20th and began my marketing campaign. I emailed Jerry the book’s draft the first week of July. Our plan was to start working together in mid-July after he’d read the draft. This would allow plenty of time for us to get Proud Lion ready for prime time.

Cue a badly broken leg. Jerry snapped his tibia in two, taking him off the literary playing field for several weeks. I had to make a choice when I learned Jerry was “med down” (to use a Navy expression): do I wait for him to get back on his feet (metaphorically speaking), or do I seek out another editor?

I chose to gamble by waiting. Jerry and I shared a long, close partnership during our time in the Navy. Jerry is never cruel when critiquing a work, but he is brutally honest, he’s and very good. I judged the risk of waiting for him to be worth the possible calamity of Proud Lion colliding with a rhetorical iceberg, instead of smoothly sailing to its Sept. 20th rendezvous with destiny. Jerry is simply far too valuable a resource for me to consider outsourcing editing away from him.

We were unable to begin working together until the end of August, so we’re racing a very unforgiving clock. We’re working via video conferencing (he’s on the East Coast) so we can knock this thing out in the time remaining. When we get on line, Jerry will read a chapter out loud and begin editing, critiquing, questioning, coaching, ripping, shredding, mauling, maiming, encouraging, and groaning (at my corny humor) in real time.

This is not how a writer/editor team usually works, to put it mildly.

Still, despite the unorthodox nature of our process, the benefits I knew I needed have indeed been pouring down upon my head like sea water filling a ballast tank. I’ve spent nearly three-and-a-half years working alone and living in the “echo chamber” of my own head. I know I’m good, but I also know from decades working in media that isolation atrophies critical skills. Partnership with a skillful editor hones a writer’s own skills, much as a wrestler improves his techniques by sparring with partners between competitions.

‘Sparring’ with Jerry revived my own skill set so fast it almost feels like an entire quarter of my brain just suddenly turned back on. Within days of our first virtual meeting, I was looking at the manuscript and suddenly seemed to see it ‘for the first time again’ since I roughed it out earlier this year. The parts and pieces were in place, but I suddenly perceived where they were out of order, or when a character veered into boring exposition, etc. I began working ahead at a feverish pace, smoothing the language while shifting various elements into different positions to achieve a more coherent narrative.

Jerry then reads over those upgraded chapters during our meetings, and commences his editing, coaching, maiming, mauling…you get the joke.

The gamble I took waiting for Jerry to get safely back in the game paid off last night.

We took the weekend off from meeting with each other. I then spent over 24 hours, from Friday afternoon through last night, working on the final third of the book by myself prior to sending it back to Jerry for today’s conference. The gamble paid off because, at about 20:00 or so last night, I experienced something I’ve never experienced before: I felt the manuscript of Proud Lion transform from being a ‘draft’ to become a book.

I’ve written several full-bore manuscripts since I was 13 years old, but I never took any of them further than the initial draft stage. This is the first time I’m taking a manuscript from draft to publication. The amount of work is staggering, as I knew it would be. The one thing I did not foresee was a singular moment where, in a blinding flash of revelation and elation, I fairly witnessed the manuscript break out of the chrysalis and emerge with wings spread. The experience was a feeling so intense and joyful it was a feeling I could almost hear.

Proud Lion is not quite done yet. Jerry and I have still have work to do, but the narrative has reached its final form. The rest of our work will be polishing, tweaking, and fine-tuning the mechanics of grammar and structure, but the story is done!

Belonging to a strong writer/editor team is the only way to achieve such literary success. The writer may be the champion freestyle wrestler; but the editor is the coach. The coach doesn’t win the bout, but the wrestler certainly can’t win the bout unless they have a dedicated coach pushing, encouraging, critiquing, and driving them to be the best wrestler they can be.

The glory of an editor is their unflagging dedication as a coach. The good editor not only contributes their grammatical skills and ability to help guide the narrative’s development, the good editor also puts in the time required to coach a writer properly. The editing portion of preparing a book for publication is extremely time consuming, so a writer must choose their editor carefully. Jerry has put in the time needed. Jerry’s coaching has pushed me so hard, so far, and so fast that my own skills burst back into life, allowing me to hit that unexpected and joyful milestone: feeling the manuscript emerge as a book.

Proud Lion is firmly on course to make its port call with history on September 20th. Jerry and I have been required to work fast due to the delay caused by his injury, but we’re doing it. I took a big risk waiting on Jerry, but the risk paid off. I don’t have a draft anymore; now I have a book!

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