Today I am thrilled to welcome Alex Harrow to the blog to share their thoughts on the editing process.
1) Tell us a bit about you and your writing
Hi, thank you so much for having me on here to talk about editing! I write queer science fiction and fantasy because it wasn’t until my early twenties that I found my first fantasy novel featuring queer characters (shout-out to Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series!) and I figured that the best guarantee to find more queer books on shelves was to write them. My debut science fiction novel, Empire of Light, will be published with Ninestar Press in February of 2019. As a non-native English speaker, it took me a lot of trial and error—and so much editing—to get here. I originally started writing with Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic, banged out on an electric typewriter, because we didn’t have money for a computer in the late 90s, to discovering the internet and all the amazing fanfic it contains, until I decided I wanted to write my own worlds full of unapologetically queer characters across all kinds of identities and I can’t wait to share all the queerness with a chance of explosions that is Empire of Light with you all soon!
2) What do you enjoy most about the editing process?
I have a confession to make. You know how many writers absolutely love first-drafting? I so very much prefer editing because it means the dreaded first draft is over. I love having written, having a draft, in various degrees of suck, that I can finally polish when it comes to editing. Maybe that makes me a bit of an anachronism, but I’m okay with it, because editing is where the magic happens. I’m also a bit of a feedback junkie. The more feedback I get, the happier I am, because it typically means that someone sees the potential in my work and is invested enough to absolutely tear it apart with me, only to put it back together in ways that it never could have been had I been at work on this on my own.
3) What do you find hardest about the editing process?
As a bit of a self-professed editing junkie, over-editing and not knowing when I should leave well enough alone are real challenges for me. My inner perfectionist likes to take over with its Pitbull jaws and never let go. But much like all Pitbulls I know, it’s also an irreparable softie who loves the community that comes with editing and writing in general, so while initially having a long list of things to fix may seem overwhelming, it really helps to talk everything through with everyone else involved—from my editor to my critique partners, to people I sprint and share editing stories with on Twitter—writing is a communal process and it really helps to hear how others approach this often messy journey.
4) What are your general thoughts on editing as part of the overall publishing process?
While editing is probably the part I’m looking forward to the most, let’s talk about how crucial having a good editor—and having critique partners and beta readers before you even get to your editor—is in producing quality work. Writing isn’t a solitary process and as Stephen King (among so many others) points out, it’s vital that you get your work out there. Only your first draft is ever truly your own and that’s okay, because at some point even the most objective of us are losing all sense of objectivity and we need someone else to look at our work, even if we maybe don’t immediately agree with what they us. In the end, getting feedback and making those hard choices will improve your work so much further than anything you could have done by yourself—and let’s face it, at some point we all need to get out of the hamster wheel of our own thoughts and let someone breathe fresh air into our worlds and characters.
5) What are your top editing-related tips for authors?
My first tip might be obvious, but it’s vital: get and cultivate great critique partners. Whether they are a group you regularly meet with or a select few individuals you trust: your critique partners will truly help you identify areas you need to grow in, even if it means telling you that you’re still crappy at blocking out a scene even after you’ve worked with them for years. It’s okay, because chances are, there will be patterns like this in their work as well and discovering them and navigating giving and working with constructive feedback will make you a much better—and much more aware—writer in the first place. Your work—and hopefully your editor down the line—will thank you. To find a good critique group, think about connecting with your local writing groups, start a Meetup, or even find people on social media you connect with. Anticipate some trial and error as not all critique group matches are made in heaven and it’s okay if things don’t work out. That’s how you build your list of expectations and making them clear at the beginning will save you from future headaches. Ultimately, just be willing to connect with others, give as good as you get, be willing to learn, and see what happens. Chances are you will find more than just critique partners, you’ll also find people who will help you grow, keep you accountable, and become lifelong friends, because let’s face it, we all could use a cheerleader every once in a while, especially when that same person is also capable of showing us some tough love when we need it most.
Apart from that, with extensive beta feedback and editor feedback, punch lists are your friend. When you get a long list of things you need to address in your work, group them into a punch list—items you need to address in a way that flows logically. I suggest starting big on the content edit level (think big picture changes) and going smaller from there. For example, I will typically group all my world building edits together in one group, followed by groups about plotting, character, etc. down to things like overused words or getting rid of sentence fragments, which are best addressed when going through your entire work on a line-by-line level. This approach also means you get to check things off your list, which makes the entire process both more manageable and overall gives you a feeling of accomplishment as you are getting things done and tracking them.
Finally, track changes and comments are your friend—even when you are working with critique partners. In my critique group, we actually love to use shared GoogleDocs to see what everyone’s comments and suggestions on a piece of work are. Having threaded comments and the ability to add suggestions and comments allows both your critique partners and yourself to get a more complete picture of your edits and suggestions. Once you are working with an editor, being familiar with tracked changes in Microsoft Word is crucial, so the earlier you can start working with this, the better.
About the Author
Alex Harrow is a queer author of science fiction and fantasy with LGBTQ+ protagonists. When not writing queerness with a chance of explosions, Alex is a high school English teacher, waging epic battles against comma splices and misused apostrophes. Their debut science fiction novel, EMPIRE OF LIGHT, releases on February 4, 2019.