Wielding the Red Pen

“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you — And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” – Arthur Plotnik

If you want to learn the mechanics of great writing, edit someone else’s writing. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last couple of months. During lunch breaks and weekends, I’ve been on the opposite side of the creative process. In September, I agreed to read my friend and fellow wordnerd Lizy Newswanger’s manuscript. It was the first time I’ve ever edited a novel. I have taken up the mighty red pen before, but never for a project so long, layered and complex.

I did my best to edit fairly but firmly and advocate for the reader who may not understand the intricacies of Lizy’s imagined world. I corrected typos, identified plot holes, examined character development and made sure that important information had not been lost over a series of rewrites. I even invented a drinking game (whenever the title appears in the text, drink!). But above all, I tried to wield the power of the red pen responsibly to let the author’s voice and story shine through.

In the process, I not only read a great novel that I hope to someday see at my local bookstore, but I also gained valuable insight into how a story is constructed. I got to peek behind the curtain at a nearly finished book and see how all the cogs fit together. And I was able to do it with far more objectivity than if it were my own words on the page. It was an eye-opening experience.

Now that she has my comments for her next round of rewrites, I can focus on applying what I’ve learned to my novel-in-progress. And with any luck, we’ll both learn what it takes to get from final draft to published bestseller.

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Jonny Eberle is a writer, editor and serial comma killer in Tacoma, WA. You can find him on Twitter. His short story, The Observable Universe, appears in Creative Colloquy Vol. 1 out now and available at King’s Books, the Nearsighted Narwhal and Amazon.

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