Living As a Reader, Writer, and Editor
Guest Post by Sandi Layne
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When I was in Middle School—we called it Junior High, back in my day—a friend of mine told me something that has stayed with me ever since. She said she didn’t want to be a penpal with me when she moved because she thought I’d red-pen her letters.
I kid you not.
For the record, I never red-pen correspondence. Editing has just been something I’ve done without thinking about it since I was quite young. For this, we can blame thank my mother. Not only did she send me to the dictionary when I didn’t understand one of her polysyllabic utterings, but she also corrected my grammar from my earliest spoken sentences. When I began writing for school, she combed over my paragraphs and essays and short stories (written for extra credit or contests) until my work met her high standards.
I think the first paper I remember her really getting serious about was when I was in third grade and writing an essay about Jesus. (Not for a Christian school; he was just my chosen Famous Person.) From that time until I was in grad school (working on an advanced degree in Theology, yep) my work was often shared with my mother. And often, I did not come up to snuff in her estimation. Thankfully, my teachers loved my words.
Today, people even pay to read them. It’s kind of amazing.
The Green Hat: Reader
I have been a voracious reader most of my life—just check my bio. When I started this peculiar journey, I began by writing what I read, in a lot of ways. The thing was, I found I didn’t want to read those books anymore, because I wanted to make sure my ideas were mine from that point onward. This severely curtailed my leisure reading and I had to expand my fictional horizons.
Still, I found myself reading hyper-critically once I began writing. On the flip-side, I was also paranoid lest I inadvertently borrow a phrase or idea from another author as I wrote my own romances. Most writers I know have said to themselves (or someone else!) “Oh, I would have said that like this…”
Come on, ‘fess up. You know you have!
But I also marvel when I see how a favorite author has managed to wrap me up in their world. I am just now re-reading Under the Dome, by Stephen King, and even if his style is familiar, it works for me. I lose myself in the tension while simultaneously keeping part of my brain back and taking notes.
“See how he did that?”
Maybe, someone will read my words and think something very similar.
The Blue Hat: Writer
Being critical of someone else’s words makes me feel guilty, as a writer. It really does. Because I know my own words aren’t always the best, either, but they are what I have in my head and so I use them, you know? I use them fully aware that my readers are like unto me and that they will be saying, “Oh, I could have said this so much better!”
Still, I have been known to gloat preen over a choice phrase or two… And I find that, when I do? The phrases are not the ones that stick with my editors or readers. This both depresses and encourages me. I remind myself that some of my favorite phrases might not have been the author’s chosen jewels, either.
As a writer, I find I am more deliberate as I craft some scenes. The scenes that require me to physically get up and work them out on my living room floor, or the moments that I have to push, word by stubborn word, from a crevice in my brain to the emptiness of the screen in front of me. I try to write in a way that will make my ideal reader lose themselves in what I give them.
And while I’m writing? I’m also reading. The green hat is always on my head. It has, after all, been there longest!
The Red Hat: Editor
In many ways, this is the easiest hat for me to wear. Perhaps because I am critical by nature. Perhaps because I’ve been doing it consciously for almost forty years. Perhaps it’s just because it is vastly easier to improve someone else’s writing than to improve my own. Or all of the above!
As I write a first draft, I remind myself it is a first draft. First, meaning there will be more. I am lenient with myself as I write, but I never forget the tips and notes my editors have given me on prior works, either. Be it something as mundane as a notation from the Chicago Manual of Style or something as complicated as separating internal monologue—a valid storytelling tool—from the “telling, not showing” that writers strive to avoid, I have so many things to sort through as I let a scene spill from my imagination to the keyboard and then to the screen in front of me. My internal editor pricks my writing-conscience with reminders that can sometimes get in the way of some serious “writing mojo.”
But! I’m a professional, I remind myself. I focus, create, and then I look over what I’ve typed and tweak it with the recent editorial reminders still sharp in my head.
And then…? I move forward. There’s a The End I’m trying to reach.
Balance or Personality Multitasking?
Picture me sitting here at my iMac at a tiny computer desk in a small room. Behind me, the Spousal Unit has a movie on the flatscreen. In other rooms, the Offspring Units are occupying themselves in that Summer Vacation, Responsibility-Free zone that occurs when duties have been completed, dinner has been eaten, and all there is left to do is relax.
(And they say they want to grow up. Ha!)
I have a novel in progress behind the window in which I am typing this post. The novel involves a real historical character and a cast of fictional folk whom I have grown to care about. I have wanted to write this book for a long time, truly.
On my Kindle, there is a list of books I am going to read as soon as The End has been achieved for this novel in progress. Due to my “No Reading Policy,” I haven’t wanted to read anything that might be remotely connected to what I’m writing. But when the first draft is done? I’m all over the novels that are waiting—I can even see the covers behind my eyes. Tempting…tempting.
I find myself writing a bit more slowly for this story. My head is full of conflicts. Not only are there the conflicts inherent in the plot, but also the way I am approaching this. My lead editor knows the series I’m writing has a certain style and I can’t really deviate from that, but I am thinking always of her comments as I write this final book in the series. How can I improve so that my manuscript will have fewer critiques from her? (If you’re reading this, E, know that this is a good thing, in my estimation. It just slows me down some!) As an editor myself (yep, people pay me to red-pen their words, too) I know how much work she puts into these comments. I’d like her not to have to work so hard on my account.
All of this is in my head with every sentence I write. The anticipation of completion, the attention to detail, the wish to improve as I go—it’s a balancing act.
I do it all joyfully. The challenge is invigorating, the results boost me with such a feeling of accomplishment that makes any effort worth it. I hope the end result is worth it for others, too.
About the Author
Sandi Layne lives in Maryland with her husband and two sons, but no pets. She writes historical fiction and contemporary inspirational romance and can be found on her website: http://sandyquill.com, twitter: http://twitter.com/sandyquill, and Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/sandi_layne Look for her latest title, An Unexpected Woman, to be released by The Writer’s Coffee Shop on July 11, 2013. The date is also her 21st Wedding Anniversary, which she will celebrate by doing the marketing with her husband.