No Matter What, You’ll Always Need an Editor

I’m currently on my third reread of the Harry Potter series. I came to the series late, my first readthrough being in 2014; and while I’m not a superfan, I love the series. It’s a great story across seven books, with wonderful characters and world-building. I also admire anyone who can write that much and have it all come together and make sense.

With the third reread, and thus the story well-settled into my memory, I’m starting to notice more little things in terms of style. And one thing I’ve noticed is that, around the time the series truly exploded — from what I recall, after Goblet of Fire was released — the tightness of the editing waned.

This struck me during Order of the Phoenix, which I’m almost done with. Now, it’s a good story, like all the rest. Its length isn’t a huge deterrent to me, though Harry doesn’t even arrive at Hogwarts until almost 200 pages in. It’s more the stylistic choices. A popular style choice in the book is to end every other sentence with ellipses. Almost everything Harry does or thinks trails off, especially after the halfway mark. It was okay the first 50 times, but after, oh, the fifth paragraph in a row with three sentences ending in ellipses, it starts to get irritating.

I won’t use this post to air all my style grievances with Order of the Phoenix (though seriously, the all caps yelling could also stand to take a chill pill). But as I noticed this sudden hard left turn from Book 4 to Book 5 — one that coincided with what I remember as the rise in the series’ popularity — I wondered if the series’ increased popularity, and J.K. Rowling’s subsequent increased clout, had the negative effect of the publisher taking a step back in terms of editing. Rowling’s books were immensely popular, and now that her work was proven — and rightfully so — perhaps there was less insistence to change or edit her work too much. But as I’m seeing in Order of the Phoenix, that isn’t always for the best.

I can’t say for sure that was the case for Books 5-7 in the Harry Potter series, since I wasn’t in the publisher’s office when the book was finished (though my Potter-loving friend said in response to my tweets about this, “No good editor would have let 400 fucking pages of idling in the damn woods stand. Also, the epigraph.”). But I can site a similar example that was in fact a documented case of a creator receiving little to no editorial interference: George Lucas and The Phantom Menace.

According to a book I just read and loved, Best. Movie. Year. Ever: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen by Brian Raftery; George Lucas had earned the right (and money) to tell the studios that he wanted complete creative control over the return to the Star Wars universe. However, this led to a movie that many fans consider the worst in the series — it’s slow, the acting is wooden, it misses the forest for the trees in terms of lore, and the dialogue is god-awful. To the latter point, Lucas even admitted he wasn’t good at writing dialogue. And yet, he didn’t want assistance with dialogue — and the studios allowed him that freedom because of his clout.

I saw The Phantom Menace when I was 13. Even then, I knew what I was seeing was bad. George Lucas is a creative genius who has devised a modern legend that will live beyond any of us. That doesn’t mean he didn’t need an editor.

Everyone needs an editor, and yet almost no one wants to admit it. Editors are for amateurs, some think; or are deployed by anxious big-wigs who don’t trust their creators or anyone’s vision that’s different from theirs.

Yes, there may be publishers who overstep and edit to their expectations as opposed to the writer’s voice. But just because that happens, that doesn’t mean an author outgrows the need to be edited. It just means they need a better editor — one that respects them as a writer and wants to encourage their growth.

I know both the temptation to go at my work alone, and the sting of being told what parts of my creation need to be fixed. When I get my memo and edits back from Evelyn Duffy, I use them to learn and remember them as I write my next piece — and I’ll admit, I occasionally think, “Ha! I remembered to do [blank] this time! I’m doing one better!” I submit my work to her and wait to see if she notices and remarks on any improvement. I don’t kid myself into thinking a piece won’t need to be edited, but I feel a special sense of glee with the piece that only needs a few copy edits.

Still, those pieces are few and far in between — and lucky for me, I’ve found an editor who doesn’t let improvement on my part diminish any editing on her part. Evelyn even remarked that one of my short stories she recently edited “made me step up my editing game.” This is good for both author and editor, but in my mind, it’s especially good for the author because it challenges the author to keep growing and improving with each piece.

Even if one doesn’t have an editor like Evelyn (and I pity those who don’t, because she’s amazing), it’s still important to remember that, no matter where you are in terms of writing experience, popularity, or clout, you should always be edited and you should always consider the input of others. And if you’re an editor or publisher, you should always maintain that role over your authors’ work, even if they’re established and popular. It results in better outcomes for everyone involved.

I’m all for giving creators more freedom, especially when they’ve proven themselves. But there’s also such a thing as giving a creator too much freedom because they’re so popular. Everyone needs an editor. Everyone needs advice. Everyone needs oversight.

To bring this point home, I present a tale of two creators, as shared anecdotally by friend and fellow beer writer Will Gordon. On one hand, we have David Foster Wallace:

I won’t add much of my two cents, since I haven’t read Infinite Jest; but from what I’ve seen online, the general consensus seems to be that, at best, it’s an ordeal to finish.

On the other hand, we have David Sedaris:

David Sedaris has one of the most distinctive voices in literature. He is edited, and he listens to his editor.

My Favorite Mistakes

This week, I began my readthrough of Without Condition. It’s my first time engaging with the text since I finished the first draft in June. It’s going well so far, with no glaring errors or passages where I think, “Jesus God, was I drunk when I wrote this?” or “Shut it down, I suck at writing, trying to be a writer is futile” (I prefer to think the latter on down days when I’m worrying about writing instead of actually writing).

I’m definitely seeing pieces that need to be fixed. I’m seeing other pieces I hope that Evelyn, my editor, will help me with. The most interesting pieces, though, are the fixes I need to make in every story I write — my favorite mistakes (OOO-oo!)

My favorite mistakes are the benign little errors that, while ones I or Evelyn catch when revising, are ones that always seem to come up in my first drafts. There are mistakes I’ve made that I make a conscious effort to not do again when I start my next story. But even with that effort, I still go back and see things I know have been noted as errors before. They’re almost comforting in an odd little way, especially since I’m familiar enough with them to see them as the mistakes they are and fix them.

One of my most common ones is to repeat a point in two or three different ways. I can almost see myself typing what came to me, typing another version, and then seeing which one stuck. Trouble was, I forgot to remove the ones that didn’t stick quite as well. It takes some time away to remember that I wrote something a few times over and need to pick the one that got it right (or if none got it right, to delete and try again).

The one that makes me laugh the most is my tendency to lapse into academic or formal writing, especially in narration. I’ll say a character cleansed instead of cleaned. A character who isn’t one for big words will say she humiliated someone instead of embarrassing them. Sometimes a formal word is nice, but usually, it glares up at me and seems so out of place, especially on a reread. I tend to get formal when I write, so it’s an easy mistake to make, and one that can be hard to remember to turn off for fiction writing. It does, however, give me a good chuckle when I’m reading and then stumble on a passage that could double as narration for a documentary.

I like being in a position to both laugh at my mistakes and to recognize them in ways where I don’t fear them. I am a perfectionist, and I tend to circle around revisions because I’m afraid of opening my drafts and being too overwhelmed with errors and rewrites. Seeing my mistakes as part of the process makes them less scary — and makes some of them true favorites of mine, like old friends saying hello. They’re friends that need to move on in final drafts, but it’s still a little comforting to see them.


Old drafts, like my favorite mistakes, can also seem like old friends; even if they simply serve to remind me how far a piece has come.

First drafts also have a tendency to all start the same, at least in their difficulty in coming together.

Still, the readthrough is an important step. Last summer, I was reading through Please Give and hoping for the best. The more things change, the more things remain the same.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

(Still miss you, Tom)

I finished the first draft of my second book a little over two weeks ago. I’m making myself wait to do my readthrough from beginning to end. It’s been pretty hard. I haven’t felt huge urges to write, but I find myself daydreaming about the story and thinking about whether or not certain passages work. Normal, but I also want a month of a clean break, so I can return to it with the freshest eyes possible.

In the interim, I’ve been occupying myself with other projects. Proving that time is a flat circle, I’m revising the short story that I first wrote during my interim period between drafting and revising Please Give.

I received Wither back from my editor earlier this winter, but left it alone while I worked on Without Condition. I’ve been using the waiting period to go through the revisions a little at a time. The story originally started with a broken timeline, divided by stanzas of a poem and the occasional asterisk. The universal feedback I received, from my editor to my writers group, was that this was confusing as all hell. They liked the plot and saw the story’s potential, but no one knew what was happening or when.

This is why it’s so important to not only get feedback before you publish or submit, but a wide range of feedback. If everyone’s saying the same thing, then it’s a thing that needs to be fixed. So, I’m fixing it — and I’m really pleased with how the story is coming together now. It still amazes me how a story can change for the better with even the smallest of fixes, like a reordered paragraph.

In addition to revising Wither, I’ve been keeping the pump primed by casually writing a new story. I haven’t decided if it will be a short story or a novel, or even if I’ll continue working on it after I’ve sent Without Condition to my editor. It’s a story that crept up on me after a dream I had, one that asked for my attention in place of the short story prompts I’d set aside for this resting period (sorry, other stories — soon, I promise). I’ll see where it takes me. For now, it’s begun where my past two novels began to take shape: when my protagonist meets a man. The working title is Someone to Share My Nightmares.

I’ll be picking up Without Condition in two weeks. Until then, I’ll be waiting — and with a couple new projects under my belt, maybe it won’t be so hard after all.


Last year, I was a little less patient during my waiting period between drafting and revising Please Give. I developed the 5 Stages of Feelings about being done with one’s draft. This mostly still applies, even if I’m calmer about it.

I first mentioned Wither in May of 2017. I also mention We Really Shouldn’t for the first time. Both stories, along with two flash pieces, will be in my next short story collection, Wither and Other Stories.

I also had quite a few coals in the fire around this time last summer. The novel-in-progress I mention there is tabled, and will likely remain that way. There may be life yet, though, for Gods into Demons, even though I haven’t worked on that in months.

Progress Report: It’s All the Same Bug

Work on my next book is still going strong. This time last year, I was almost finished with the first full draft of Please Give. I’m maybe 2/3 finished with the next book, and hope to have a finished draft by May. I set myself a deadline of May 10, but that may be a deadline that, like Douglas Adams said, I can enjoy the whooshing sound of as it goes by.

I’m in the odd stage where I’m writing and having to contend with my original ideas changing or being dropped altogether. I already changed the title and reconsidered some of the themes. I’m also finding original scenes, moments, and ideas — ones I had before I even started writing, and ones that became my first passages — dangling on the precipice of the manuscript, waiting for the fateful keystroke that will send them to my Lost Passages folder (because I never delete anything, even drafts I hope never see the light of day).

Some of these are scenes I can’t wait to revise. I actually spent the past couple days revising one scene that was awkward when I wrote it and works much better now that I’ve written more of the story. But there are others I’m afraid to go back to and press CTRL-X, because a part of me feels like I’m letting go of a piece, a moment, or an element that I held with love for a long time — perhaps longer than necessary, but they were pieces I liked; and I grew sad when I first realized they no longer fit in the story that grew from them.

So much of writing a novel is learning to let go — and most often, what we’re letting go of are the moments that formed the novel in the first place. These are the darlings that are especially hard to kill. How can I drop pieces that inspired the story?

I can ultimately drop them, though, because the inspiration they created remains, even if the starting point does not. I’ll often go back and look at a finished piece and think, it’s so different from where it was when I first thought of it. And it is. It always is. But in many ways it isn’t. The fundamentals are still there. The idea is still there. It’s just in the form it’s supposed to be in.

It’s a cliche to use the caterpillar-cocoon-butterfly metaphor. I’m almost embarrassed to use it — I’m making myself type this with all my strength. But it’s an apt cliche because it’s true. A story crawls into existence, wraps itself in words, and emerges as something completely different from the caterpillar it started as — but at the end of the journey, it’s still the same bug. The caterpillar didn’t disappear. It just changed. And knowing that makes it a little easier to cut away the cocoon of a first draft that I’ve wrapped the story in to get it going.

I’ll be sure to post another GIF-filled entry once I’m done with the first draft of this book. I’ll do my best to not post a bunch of caterpillars and butterflies.

You can read a better use of bugs as a book-writing metaphor in my essay, My Jar of Fireflies.

And check out my progress on the book so far under its current working title, Without Condition — the title’s already changed, and probably will again until the cover’s been drawn and I can’t go back.

Thanks for reading!

Greetings from Revision Land

I’m still in the depths of revising Please Give. For the past couple weeks, that’s all I’ve worked on. The other projects I’ve begun are all waiting for me — a good thing, because otherwise I won’t finish the current one.

Waiting to work on other things has been an exercise in patience, but the process of revising makes that exercise easier. I’ve enjoyed seeing how the book has changed from when I sent it to my editor to what it looks like now (though I am trying to not read my revisions until I’m done with all of them and can read anew from beginning to end — another exercise in patience). It makes the story feel fresh, new, and most importantly, better.

I hesitate to say it feels complete, because it doesn’t. It doesn’t due to the simple fact that I still have a few chapters left. But more so, it doesn’t feel that way because I don’t know if it will ever feel 100% complete.

Many authors say that a book is done when one accepts that what’s there is enough. I understand that feeling, more so with the book than my short stories. With the short stories, their brevity helped me know when each was done. I have flashes of that with the book. For instance, in the first draft, I intended to write another section after what became the closing line. However, I felt an urge to just stop there once I wrote it. And sure enough, my editor said it was a great closing line.

But there are moments in between the beginning and end where I still wonder if there’s another way to word a scene, or a way to expand a scene further, or even change it a little to set some other pieces in place. Revising the book has been an exercise in knowing when those changes are warranted, and when those changes are just me keeping myself enmeshed in a story I absolutely love writing. It’s crucial to know the difference, because as much fun as it is to write a story, it will feel even better when it’s done.

One of my favorite movies is Wonder Boys. There’s a scene towards the end where Grady’s book-in-progress, a typed 1000+ page tome that he’s spent years working on, goes flying into the wind and the water, lost forever because it was his only copy (a testament to the importance of backing up your files). He’s asked what the story was about, and he says he doesn’t know. He’s asked why he spent so many years writing the story when he didn’t even know the plot. He says, “I couldn’t stop.”

While I have not typed 1000+ pages, nor spent years doing it, nor did so without a plot in mind, I know how that feels — and how that feeling can ultimately be a trap. Don’t let your stories fly into the figurative wind and water under the guise of fine-tuning and making it perfect. Write your story, revise your story, and then complete it — by stopping. There are people out there waiting to read your book who’ll be glad that you did.

Writing in Seasons

Fall is my second-favorite season (spring wins because it’s warmer). One of the things I like about it is the sense of calm that comes after summer. Summer is typically busy — a good kind of busy, as it’s filled with trips and barbecues and movies and hours of light — but as evidenced by all those and’s, it’s still busy. As the weather cools, it’s easier to pause for a moment and sit in a chair with a cup of tea.

It’s also easier to pause and write. I write all year, but during the summer and spring, I find it more difficult to write anything long. I finished the first draft of Please Give in April, and sent it for edits in June. I thought I’d spend the time it was with my editor working on my next novel.

I thought wrong. It was a prolific stage, as I finished five short stories and started another, longer one between April and September. But it was prolific in a somewhat manic way, as I wrote in short story bursts as opposed to one long, lingering novel (though there were times when pounding out pages of Please Give felt like anything but calm and lingering).

Fall is back, and so is the book. I’ve been revising it for the past few weeks, and of course, I got ideas for my next novel once my current one was back in my inbox. And, I not only got an idea for the next one, but an idea that would turn the unfinished, longer short story into a proper novella — or maybe even a novel, once it’s done. Two novels to work on, and I’m still revising the first one. Thanks, brain, for having such a great schedule.

In all seriousness, I am starting to wonder if fall and winter have become my novel-writing seasons, while spring and summer are the seasons for short stories. Fall and winter do lend themselves beautifully to a book. It gets darker earlier, which puts me inside with my laptop. There are a flurry of activities with the holidays, but it still feels slower than the onslaught of Things To Do that comes with the excitement of the weather warming up and my winter hibernation coming to a close.

All year, there is a lot — and all year, there is a lot to write. It seems for me at least, the time of year dictates how much I’ll write until the story feels complete.

Progress Report: Decisions and Revisions

Fall is upon us. Last fall, I got the first idea for what became my first novel. It’s fitting, then, that one year later I’m in the midst of revising it.

I’ve never revised a novel after receiving copy-edits. I of course revised chapters as I wrote the book, and made revisions as I went back and read it from beginning to end. But my revision experience based on edits from my editor has only been with short stories. I can usually go through these in a few hours, and read from beginning to end with ease (and multiple times at that).

Understandably, it’s a different process altogether to try and do this with a novel — and a somewhat long one at that.

It’s an experience, though, that I’m glad to take on. I’m finding a balance between making edits as I think of them, no matter the order they fall in the narrative; and working from beginning to end. I’m in the latter stage now, as I’ve found it’s easier and better for the edits to read from one chapter to the next at this point (though I’ve made notes to myself for later changes to make when I reach where they’ll go in the story).

It’s a longer process than I had with the short stories, but I’m grateful for the length. I’m usually anxious to write it all and write it now. As such, I can sometimes write rather haphazardly. It comes together in final drafts — it calms down, if you will — but for a novel, I need to exercise that patience sooner. I need to write the revisions as a note, and let them settle before putting them into the manuscript. It makes for a calmer process — and one, I hope, that leads to a more rewarding finish.

I still anticipate publishing Please Give by November 28. I’m still writing notes and passages for other projects, but the novel revisions are my focus. There’s time for everything. “In a minute there is time/For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” (Side note: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is my favorite poem)

I look forward to sharing the book in its finished form with all of you. Thank you for reading!

And as a quick reminder, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

When She Was Sloppy

All pieces start with a first draft, and with rare exception, all first drafts are bad. Aspiring writers — myself included — often forget that all great pieces came from bad first drafts, because we only get to see these pieces after they’ve gone through revisions, professional edits, and other polishes to make them less sloppy. I always appreciate it when my favorite authors share their early drafts to prove this point (though I say early, and not first, because I’m convinced that most first drafts will never see the light of day if their authors have anything to say about it).

I’ve discovered that the forgotten first draft experience can happen with my own writing. Over the past few months, I’ve engaged the most with second and third (and ninth and tenth) drafts of my pieces. The earliest drafts of Please Give ceased around New Year’s, with the first pages written getting heavily revised or completely rewritten; and any following pages being buoyed by those revisions. The new pages weren’t perfect by any means, but they were better than first drafts because I was more familiar with the story and where it was going.

Between chapters of Please Give, I worked on revising the short stories set to appear in The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales — reading them, getting feedback from readers, incorporating edits from Evelyn, and reading through them again. The first drafts of these stories were even more buried than the first words of Please Give, going back to the spring and summer of 2016.

Despite writing every day in 2017, new writing — brand new stories, with no drafts whatsoever to guide them and no revisions to shape them — didn’t happen at all until May, when the full draft of Please Give was done. At last, I had the time and mental space to start the new projects that were simply ideas. I cracked my knuckles, opened a brand new Word document, and let the words flow from my fingers.

Words that, as they I typed them, landed rather sloppily on the page.

I found myself looking curiously at these drafts. Why are these sentences so clunky? Why can’t I come up with a good transition from this scene to the next? Why did I use three adverbs in one sentence? Why am I using so many parentheses, and writing asides and exclamations instead of narration?

It’s because I’m writing a first draft — and even after writing several pieces to satisfactory completion, I still felt daunted by that, stuck on the fact that the ideal sentence wasn’t what was currently on paper. No matter how much I write, and no matter how pleased I am with the final versions of my stories, I still have to contend with sloppy first drafts. There’s simply no avoiding them.

They also shouldn’t be avoided. First drafts are where all stories begin, after all. And even with some clunky stumbles on the way, practice does make better. I find myself able to write more in one sitting, and making less of the mistakes (both style and technical) that I made almost by default not one year ago. A first draft is a first draft, though; and even with all the practice in the world, first drafts will always be rough.

Still, I appreciate reminders of when I was sloppy, and I’d rather get those reminders through writing sloppy first drafts than simply remembering them (or rereading them, though that can be fun when looking for a reminder of how far a piece has come). Remembering them means I’m not writing them. And like many writers say, writing a bad first draft — which everyone does — is better than writing nothing at all.