the good, the bad, and the ugly about the writing life

Why I Hired an Editor–Part 3

Image courtesy of digitalart and Image courtesy of digitalart and

At the beginning of the week, I wrote about how I met editor Chris Roerden (see Why I Hired an Editor–Part 1) and how she came to edit my mystery manuscript, Death and the Motherlode (see Why I Hired an Editor–Part 2).

A couple of months later, I’m teaching a fiction writing workshop at Harper College, and I get my book back from Chris. I don’t want to open it but I do. I read the ten-page overview letter. I laugh when Chris tells me to pull up a giant Cherry Pepsi (Paulette’s drink of choice) and read on. I cry when she tells me that I still have promise as a mystery writer and might even have that new “voice” that agents are always looking for. And I cry when she tells me that I still have miles to go before I sleep.

The goofy part is that I hired an editor to tell me what was wrong with my manuscript. Now that she has laid it all out for me, I’m overwhelmed. There are a bunch of comments on every single page. Some say: “Well done.” I want to post these on my bulletin board. Most tell me where I took a wrong turn or where Chris doesn’t understand what I wrote. These pages seem like good kindling for the fire—but we only use those pressed wood logs.

Some days, I feel as if I am the luckiest writer on the planet. I hired a great editor who told me how to make my book really good—maybe even “snag an agent” good. Other days, I feel as if I must be the stupidest writer in the universe to have made all these goofy errors. The truth is that I am both. I am grateful for Chris’ help and overwhelmed by the idea of having to come up with a sub-plot to keep, Claudie, Paulette’s best friend, in the book.

Chris points out that everything in the book, including the characters, need to offer some insight into the mystery. Unless Claudie has some information to offer about the murder of Deborah Alston (this book’s murderee du jour), her scenes need to be drastically cut. Duh! It seems so obvious when Chris points it out. I feel dumb, but the patterns that she points out weren’t obvious to me.

Even though I am several states away from my comfort zone, hiring an editor was the right choice for me. Yes, I routinely feel inept, but I am learning. So far, I’ve learned that I overuse the word “just” way too much—337 times in the manuscript that I sent Chris. Yikes! Could I have lived a long and happy life without knowing this about my writing? Yes. But I wasn’t going to get published with that kind of blindness.

So, I’m going to keep on learning about myself as a writer and keep on being chagrined at Chris’ findings: 158 times that characters smile? Rats! At the end of this journey, I hope to be a much better fiction writer and a much more humble writer.

Perhaps the toughest moment for me was when a friend recently got published without having to hire her own editor. She edited herself. I wish that was me, but I’m not a very good self-editor…yet. Some day, I hope to be able to edit a book all by myself.  However, until that far-off moment, I’m glad that I hired Chris to show me the ropes.

Here’s what Chris wrote at the end of her 10-page overview of my MS:

Heather, the plot of Motherlode has good possibilities, and Paulette Goddard is a very interesting character. You should know that the number of details I’ve marked are par for the course–neither more nor less than some of the best-sellers when they first reach me. So have fun revising! This stage in production offers a very good learning opportunity. No one ever said it would be easy.

I couldn’t have summed it up any better myself.

2 Responses to “Why I Hired an Editor–Part 3”

  1. everything2laugh4

    Thank you for sharing such a personal story, which shows your confidence! The insights you received, such as 337 uses of “just”‘, are great for aspiring writers to be aware of. We all have crutches and shortcuts in colloquial communication; an editor seems like a perfect way to eradicate those habits!


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