The Method to My Madness, Part Two: The Story Editing
I love helping people make their writing stronger. That can take the form of brainstorming plot points or arguments, doing research to refine characters and worlds, shifting structure to improve pace, or tweaking language for emphasis or other effect. I truly believe everyone has a story worth sharing, but not necessarily the tools with which to tell it. If I can lend my way with words to someone so they can communicate in a clear and engaging manner, that’s wonderful—we’re all better off for the experience!
After two paid positions as story editor, a stint in a writing program with a workshop format, and a decade as member of multiple critique groups, I’m a seasoned practitioner of the “compliment sandwich.” When I analyze others’ writing, I lead with a paragraph of praise, summarize my understanding of the story, offer broad-stroke suggestions, then support those with specific examples from the text, before closing with another line or two of positive reinforcement and encouragement. I subscribe to the school of thought that posits writing is too difficult a pursuit to be nasty about anyone’s output.
Over the years, however, I’ve learned a few hard lessons about performing story editing as a profession. My creative energy and ability to focus are too cyclical for me to be a consistent source of feedback when faced with tight turnarounds and relentless deadlines. I am hopeless at keeping track of contracts and payments because, deep down, I believe money interferes with artistic expression and integrity. And I prefer to collaborate as part of a lean creative team rather than manage people; I’ll happily plan, scope, schedule, and direct the work of a group project, but I grow frustrated when individuals fail to take responsibility for their own actions and tasks.
I remain more than willing to apply the critical skills I’ve learned in an amateur capacity, in which the word amateur is to be taken in its original sense—lover, as in lover of writing. Furthermore, I’d like to make Amateurs of you all; for as painful as composition can be, pure communication is divine. For example, nothing rivals that moment when I suggest a different turn of phrase to a writer, and they say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I meant!” Then I know we are literally on the same page.