Edit Like a Hobbit Eats

Today I was talking to someone about what it’s like to be a writer and she asked my advice on how to find a good editor.

“How many edits are you in?” I asked.

“What do you mean…how many?” she asked.

“I mean what edit are you on?” I asked.

“Um… I guess the first one. I wrote it, so now I need an editor,” she said.

“So, you wrote it and now you want an editor to polish it up,” I said.

“Um…yea,” she said. She rolled her eyes when she didn’t think I was watching. I was.

“You don’t need an editor. You have to have a book first,” I told her. “Right now you have a first draft.” She wasn’t too happy to hear she wasn’t to the fun parts of publishing—pick a cover, hit publish and roll in the royalties…? 

She’s not alone to think that she can throw some money at her first draft and walk away with a best seller. I did the same thing with my first book. I wanted my raw genius to shine on the paper. The thing that shone was what a noob I was/am. The more experienced I become, the less of a genius I remain.

Writing is hard, hard work. It’s much more than tossing some pretty prose down on paper. Then there is the editing yourself and letting other people edit you… repeatedly. Kill some prose, add some prose. You can’t read it over once, pat yourself on the back and pass it on. If you want excellent work, edit that thing like a hobbit eats. You need first edits, second edits, elevenses edits…

“I actually have a really good editor,” she told me. “I’m sure it will be fine.”

I think that’s fabulous, but she just told me how she had dedicated a year of her life to writing this book. An entire year working hard to walk away with a book that’s fine? There are amazing editors that can work magic with raw sewage… but why make them?

Each book we write is our masterpiece. What would we think if Michelangelo had smacked a hunk of marble with a hammer one night and sent it on to the statue polisher? Sure, the guy can coat the rough marble with enough wax to make it shiny but it will never be the masterpiece it was meant to be.

But I get it. That first book wants to be published so badly it burns like fire in your dreams and dances in your peripheral vision when your are awake. You convince yourself it’s fine and it’s good enough. I’ve been there. Oftentimes, I’m still there. This is a reminder from me, to me.

Edit. Rinse. Repeat. Chop your babies, murder your prose and ax your unnecessary pages without shedding a tear. What survives will be your best work, worthy of bearing your name and signature. Why settle for less?

About Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith's work has been published in several print and online publications, including the “Horror Writers Association's Poetry Showcase” vols. 2-4, “Christmas Lites” vols. 1-6 and the “Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy” anthology. She has nearly 20 books of speculative fiction and poetry for adults, YAs and children. Her first collection of poetry, “In Favor of Pain,” was nominated for an 2017 Elgin Award.
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3 Responses to Edit Like a Hobbit Eats

  1. Marge Simon says:

    amen to all you say. I think the first thing I notice in a novice’s work is too many adjectives. “The girl combed her long, lustrous, beautiful black hair and sang in a low, sultry sexy voice.” I think it was Plath that said something like delete your adjectives and kill your babies (meaning what you say about editing out what you thought was just the best paragraph you ever wrote).

    OH, and don’t forget the best advice of all — READ! Take note of what works with a story in the hands of an experienced, successful author! Read all kinds of styles and stories — and while you’re at it, poetry. Never stop.

    Thanks, Angela!

    • I love that you bring up read as an important part of being a good writer. That’s actually my next Friday’s post. Great minds! :) I found editing traumatic in the beginning because all my words were perfect (sarcasm intended). Once I saw how much better things read once I sucked the fat out of it it’s gotten easier. Not easy… just easier.

    • I’m so tempted to use your “The girl combed her long, lustrous, beautiful black hair and sang in a low, sultry sexy voice.” as a exquisite corpse line!

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