Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Value of Editing, Part 1

I enjoy editing. Not just because it is a way I earn a living, and not just because I enjoy explaining and teaching others. I enjoy editing because over the course of an editorial process, the manuscript in front of me comes to life.

I liken it to seeing something surface from beneath the waves, or watching a rocket launch.

Over time, through the series of suggestions and revisions, the manuscript changes shape and starts to define itself, not as only a mere collection of words assembled on page after page, but as a coherent story that has characters, and depth, and it interests all those who come in contact with it, and it has emotions breathed into the pages.

I do not apologize for sounding so florid over the transformative effect of editing. But if that last paragraph seemed like a lot of fluff and not a lot of payoff, allow me now to use a more visceral example:

You've bought your favorite car. You saved every cent and worked long hours of overtime to afford this dream car. You have thought of, dreamed about, and craved this car. And there it is, in your driveway. Very new. Very shiny. Very ready to be taken on a spin. So of course, you put the top down (at least in my fantasy, your favorite car is a convertible. It doesn't have to be, maybe you want the Batmobile or something) and off you go.

And driving is awesome. You're flying down the street. All your friends see you, and they're waving happily at you. You push the car up to triple-digit speeds. The roads are empty, and you feel more alive than ever as the car responds to your and your hands inside those Italian leather racing gloves (again, my fantasy for you). And you're loving this car as it winds down the roads and comes over hills. (Maybe if you're feeling adventurous you drag race a few police cruisers). And as you drive, you're not really noticing the occasional mud puddles that splash up now and then. Maybe you're not seeing the bug go splat against the windscreen. You're not really paying attention to the gravel and dust cloud your blasting through. 

So by the time you get back to your garage, that beautiful car needs to be washed, waxed and tuned up. But, the hour grows late, and you have other things to attend to. (Given that this is my fantasy, let's say those things involve your favorite food and a party of some kind, maybe a Doctor Who marathon or something). The car can wait, you say. And it sits in the garage for a night. 

And that night becomes a weekend. Then a week. Then a month. And then a season.

By the time you come back to that dream car, the mud is caked on pretty good. The gravel has sunk into the paint, and the bugs have formed a nice crust on your windscreen. You blast it with a hose, but all you really do is swirl the crap around. Maybe you take it to a local car wash, but really all they tell you is that the car is a mess, and if it were their car, they'd treat it better. And it would be a Jeep. No, it would be a monster truck. A monster truck that shoots fireballs. Called Chevysaurus Rex Prime. 

But this is your dream car. You had a blast not too long ago driving this car. And you know you want to drive it again. hire a specialist. You go out and you find the best car detail-and-restoration guy possible. He takes a look at it, and like any nervous parent, you're pacing in the background, waiting for his assessment. 

He gives you good news: He can bring the dream car back. It'll take work, he says, but he can bring it back. And he's even sure that he can make it work even better, but he'll know more once he gets rid of some of this mud. You think he's going to ask you for the keys and you won't see your car for a while, which sounds sort of like what your parents told you about your dog when you were nine, so you're properly worried. But he doesn't ask you for the keys, and he says, yes some car restoration services will take your keys and your money, and your mint condition Impala may come back to you a lime-green Thunderbird with tiger print seats and a blender in the trunk. 

No, he won't offer you anything other than your car, the way you want it. But he says you need to pick up the sponge and a few tools that you maybe hadn't considered using before and you're going to join him in bringing back the dream car, and then making it better.

That's what I do. And that's why it's awesome. 

In part 2, I'll talk more technically about it.