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It’s all about clear communication from the start, and it’s important that the writer and the editor get along. Sounds simple, and it is.

You will want to check the editor’s background. If you’ve written a literary novel and the editor has mostly edited medical textbooks, it might be best to find someone else. Find out if the editor has experience working directly with authors, as opposed to working with publishers or other companies. Having the buffer of a middleman between the writer and the editor can affect an editor’s sensitivity. What sorts of projects has the editor worked on and how do those projects compare to your own? You can also ask the editor for a specific type of reference. If you ask for three authors the editor recently worked with, those references might be able to provide valuable insights for you.

It’s important to be very clear about your expectations with your editor from the get go. If you only want a quick proofread for spelling errors and punctuation, you’ll want your editor to know not to take a deep dive into your prose, restructuring sentences and suggesting substantive changes to a book you thought you were finished writing. If you are looking for a substantive edit, you don’t want the editor to zoom through without nudging the prose around a bit. Asking the editor for a sample contract or project proposal can be a great way to hammer out these details. Their contracts should state specifically what they plan to do with your manuscript, how long it will take, how much it will cost, and so on. The contract can be a wonderful tool for the author and editor to negotiate back and forth for a while before jumping into the work.

When finding an editor, it’s important to do some introspection as well. How deeply do you want your editor to dig into your prose? How comfortable are you with criticism? Are you looking for someone to praise your genius or someone who will help you improve your manuscript? Try to prepare yourself for what you’re asking your editor to do. Emily Dickinson once wrote to her mentor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, “Will you tell me my fault, frankly as to yourself, for I had rather wince, than die. Men do not call the surgeon to commend the bone, but to set it.”

Originally published with The Loft Literary Center.

Writing is a balancing act. So much in life goes unsaid, and so much of what’s unsaid is important. Like most feats of balance, it helps to know what happens when we go to either extreme: all dialog and no prose, or all prose and no dialog. If done well, the extremes can be the way to go. But how often are they warranted? Seldom. Life usually comes somewhere in the middle. It’s a mixture of signals from everywhere in our environment.

As humans, we have to decide which signals are important to pay attention to. Luckily our brains take care of a lot of this filtering without us having to do it consciously. As writers, however, we must observe the world in a way that reveals how the human mind takes in information. We communicate with our whole bodies, and the environment affects our state of being. So we must do our best to observe interactions holistically, then translate that reality into the worlds we create.

It’s easy to overdose on dialog. It can water down a scene by allowing characters to reveal too much. It can even make the reader feel like the characters are floating in space without the context of setting. But when there isn’t enough dialog, when the conversation is summarized by the narrator for example, the characters can start to feel distant. The lens is pulled away. Finding this balance all depends on the tone, emotion, and situation of the scene. The wonderful thing is that you can be the judge. There’s no right or wrong way to view the world, as long as it’s true to the characters.

We have to ask ourselves how each piece of information in a story should be communicated to the reader. What if we had a scene with two characters who speak their minds easily, and another involving two characters who are guarded around each other? If you wrote two versions of the same conversation with these two sets of characters, how would they differ? Try it out and see how the balance of prose to dialog shifts.

Originally published with The Loft Literary Center.

Most writers lose interest in their writing at some point. This is actually a good sign that it's time to challenge your own process in a new way. It can be helpful to think of an author whose writing recently excited you. Read that author’s books, then find out what books that author is reading, and read those too. A new reading list can jump start your awareness of what’s possible in a story or poem. You might be inspired by new voices or even observe techniques you’ve never seen before.

If you're bored with a particular piece of your own writing, step away from it for a while. When you finally return, you’ll have fresh eyes that will likely recognize your old tendencies. You’ll see more clearly where things need to change.

You may find that your issue is simply that of repetition. There are certain words and phrases that we repeat without realizing it. I think every writer deals with this. There are words that seem unique and stand out to some people, but seem invisible and repeatable to others. It's sometimes useful to do a search for certain words you suspect yourself of using too often. Count how many times you use them, then try to find other ways of describing that certain something. It's an exercise every writer needs to do now and then. Even the greatest writers fall into habits as time goes on. We all have patterns, and our writing is a great place to recognize them.

Originally published with The Loft Literary Center.

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