For the first time in our married lives, Thomas and I have a house, and we love it. I could write a blog just about all benefits of living in a house versus living in a condo, one of the biggest being that my kids now have a fenced yard where they can play in safety. But with that yard comes one drawback: yard work. Of course, Thomas says that’s why we have two boys, but since one of them still tries to cram dirt into his mouth every time he goes outside, it’ll be a while before we can turn that duty over to them.
My least favorite part about lawn upkeep is weeding. I did enough of that as a teenager to make me swear off the practice for the rest of my life. If ever I had a house, I promised myself that a yard man would be included in the budget. As I often do, I spoke too soon. And it seems that our lawn, more than any other, is mostly composed of weeds. My husband set aside an afternoon for working in the yard last week and said he filled two of those big, black garbage bags with weeds, and when he surveyed his handiwork, he didn’t know if anyone else would be able to tell he’d done anything. Part of me thinks, Just mow it. Mow those suckers down, and get it over with. This, however, is only a temporary solution. The roots are all still there, and they’ll pop up again in no time.
As I struggled with one of those nasty weeds—you know, the kind you have to dig down about seven feet to really get—it struck me that I actually weed all the time. It’s something I’ve been doing for years. I’m an editor.
This weekend I’m finishing weeding my own book. It’s almost ready for the presses! Ha. I know if I’m lucky enough to find an agent, the next step will be another thorough edit. It doesn’t matter how well I think I’ve done, there will always be something that can be tweaked just a little bit. I know the yard analogy isn’t one hundred percent accurate, but think about it this way: how many people plant a garden, stand back, and never lift a finger again? Same thing goes for writing. If someone had been foolish enough to publish my book after I finished the first draft, not only would my publishing career have died right there, but the book would have looked like a kindergartner’s half-tended bean sprout with a compost heap in the middle of it, not the Biltmore gardens. (Not saying that it’s reached Biltmore quality yet, either, but it’s a heck of a lot closer.)
And just as there are people who love to get outside and dig their fingers into the dirt, stir up earthworms, and toil the day away, there are those like me who would rather pay someone else to do it. I can say that I feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when the job is done, but I am also not brave enough to start a flower garden or do anything artistic, for that matter. We have grass. End of story.
With writing, however, I do like to get my hands dirty. I don’t mind mentally sweating. I love the initial outpouring of the story, too, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing like having a brainwave, sitting down, and getting it on paper. But it’s a different kind of fun to go back through it, pruning and weeding and clipping a choice blossom to display in a prominent place, where others can see my accomplishments. Some people hate this part. They would rather mow. This scene isn’t working? Just get rid of it. But in the process, while many problems might be solved by such a drastic approach, some of the good stuff is lost, some really small but glaring mistakes are left to grow up between the cracks, and it’s obvious that the writer hasn’t learned much. The only growth is of the wrong kind: overused artistic license, misplaced apostrophes, passive voice popping up at the worst possible times.
Editing isn’t glamorous, whether you’re an editor by trade or just revising your own work. While authors often thank their editors, the readers don’t know who these people are. They’re largely invisible, but if they do their job right, the work is invisible, too. Or, I suppose a better way to say it is that their work is seamless. A badly edited piece is, on the other hand, painfully conspicuous. I’ve read many wonderful books that were full of some of the worst typos I’ve ever seen. Typos that would not be forgiven if I were to submit a manuscript in such a state. And these are big-name authors with bestselling books. I would be embarrassed to work for those publishing houses that put out books like that. (In fact, I’ve often thought, Note to self, don’t ever go with that publisher.)
Take the time to edit. Take the time to learn the rules before you submit, and then go back and make sure you followed them. Or, if you don’t have the time or really need help polishing your writing, we editors are waiting for you to call on us. Your name will still be on the cover of the book, and it really is your garden, anyway. We’ll just make sure that when others stop by to admire it, there aren’t any weeds choking your roses.