Writer’s responsibility

Note: I’ve survived my first day as an official Tweeter (@behlerpublish) without risk to life or sanity (sanity flew out the door eons ago), so I feel it my duty to report that I have yet to put a contract out on that Morgan woman’s life. I can say that I didn’t do anything worthwhile all yesterday got lots of work done and was quite productive in spite of the temptation to twit my tweet. Now on to my regular blog post…


I’m having a sudden flashback on what I always overhear at every writer’s conference: “Why should I bother with learning the writing rudiments when my editor will fix it?”

Run me through with the horn of  a rhino.


As we all know, the writers who feel this way will have a much harder time finding  a publishing deal because they probably don’t have a firm grasp on how much they don’t know. What’s worse is they don’t care.

Step 1: Listen

Let’s just say that our noob (people who don’t know what they don’t know, and don’t care) writer got that pubby deal and is now in the firm grasp of his editor – yah, the one holding the bloody red pen and the pointy end is aimed squarely at the manuscript. What’s the next step?

While she is editing, she may give our intrepid friend some feedback. Maybe something along the lines of, “Sorry this is taking longer than I’d planned.”

So what does that mean? Could be that she’s handling several fires at the moment, and the entire process is taking longer than planned for. It happens all the time. I’ve had to sideline twice because I had a barnburner that had a fast release date. It doesn’t mean that the sidelined manuscript is any the less important. It’s strictly business, and there’s no need to begin mainlining gin.

But there are other things to listen for. If you have a chatty editor, they may drop the “oy vey, this is going to take more work than I thought.” Ok, we try very hard never to say stuff like that, but we think it a lot. We get surprised at times. Sure, we read the manuscript, but there’s a bit of time that passes before we actually get to editing the project. We may have lurved the book – and still do – but once we get into the nuts and bolts we see how extensive the editing job will be.

Step 2: Listen, read, and learn

What normally happens is that you’ll get your edits back with a few pages of critiques and your file that’s marked with comments off to the side, suggested rewrites, and other dabblings that have been inserted into your manuscript.

Read those critiques like they are a map to finding the holy grail – because in a manner of speaking, it is.

If you see comments like:

There are a lot of sentence fragments – that’s an indication that you need to go through your manuscript and look for those fragments. Mind you,fragments totally work, but just like the beagle’s penchant for margaritas, too much of a good thing can ruin the party. Weed them down to a manageable number so they soften the flow. And that means you need to know how to recognize a sentence fragment. Your editor will – or should – give examples so you can look for those little law breakers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

There are tons of passive sentences – Again, a passive sentence here or there, properly written is fine. But if one is whacked over the head, that means there’s a problem.

The long and short of this is that your editor has pointed out some writing weaknesses. Chances are that those weaknesses aren’t just little mistakes, but something that puts a hole in your writing. The idea is to learn from these crits and improve.

I’ve had instances where authors have thanked me for the crits and proceeded not to take a proactive stance with those crits. They only worked on the things I’d specifically pointed out in the manuscript. Editors are not going to point out every single passive sentence or fragment. What ends up happening is that editing time now doubles because I have to go back and either fix them myself or point them out because I realize the author doesn’t get it. It’s head bangy stuff.

Step 3: Be proactive and be loved

If you take a proactive stance and read those pages of crits – because we don’t write them for our health – and re-read your manuscript with those comments in mind, you’ll not only learn from your mistakes but you’ll earn the everlasting love from your editor.

Editing can be a tough experience, and authors really set the tone as to how well or agonizing it will be. Many of us mutter, “I love this book and this author’s writing, but I’ll think twice about taking on their second book.”

This is not what you want your editor to say. Evah. Take total responsibility for your writing at every turn.

6 Responses to Writer’s responsibility

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    And before you even get to that stage, reading your entire manuscript out loud…its headache creating, but really helps with spotting those sentence fragments, passive sentences and the one Lynn didn’t mention…the dreaded run on sentence.

    Which I just gave a good example of, didn’t I ;).

  2. Oh there are a whole host of editing issues I didn’t mention…trust me!

  3. Frank Mazur says:

    Not taking note of an editor’s remarks or changes is foolishness. Sometime in the late 60s or early 70s, a professor—not an editor per se-returned my paper on Shelley’s “Alastor.” In this case there were no comments in the margins; rather, word by word, phrase by phrase, he edited the paper. The light bulb went on like never before, and my writing was not the same afterwards. So many things came instantly clear. Among them was redundancy, which I learned was often more than two words of the same meaning butted together. Thanks, Dr. Fletcher, Edinboro State. (He wouldn’t know me from Adam.)

  4. cat says:

    Oh, to reach the giddy heights of having an editor criticise my arrangement of cat hairs!
    I am so pleased to hear you have survived your first day of Twitter and not strangled Nicola – yet!

  5. Chris says:

    Gulp….this post is scarrrry!

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