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How To Drive Yourself Crazy, Part Two: EDITING

Welcome back, to the second installment in this irregular series.  ‘Irregular’ because I don’t know when the next will one will be, and ‘series’ because I’m always learning new ways to drive myself crazy.  This time, it’s a real “how to” style!

i made this collage myself

A typical editor's work-space

First, decide to work on an anthology.  Work on at least five – but no more than ten – pieces at a time.  After all, if you were working with just one author, it would be far too simple.  No, in order to crank up the insanity, you have to do a lot of stories – at the same time.

Next, make sure that the people doing the copy-editing aren’t looking over each others shoulders.  That way, as editor (or co-editor), you have to catch any differing opinions and weirdness that might crop up.  It’s much better to work in a vacuum, if your goal is mind-numbing anxiety in the final hour.

Combine the various documents into a ‘master document’, without setting any filters first.  Don’t worry about italics and strange formatting yet.  After all, there will be plenty of time in the last week of work to redo everything.

It’s important at this stage to neglect your basic needs.  Forgetting to eat proper meals will instill a hunger for success.  Not getting enough sleep insures that you’ll be in an emotionally sensitive space; perfect for making snap decisions.  And don’t forget how maddening it will be to clean up the mess of your so-called social life.

If you can, make sure to delete a few key email messages from your authors.  Clear, easy lines of communication often get in the way of stark, raving lunacy.  A few missed pieces of information will guarantee special, surprise errors in the final version.

Now, before you get the finalized version kicked out the door, you’ll have to make review copies.  Distribute these to whoever is supposed to have them, but whatever you do, don’t harass them for critical feedback.  In order for the full force of slavering madness to take effect, key pieces of final review will have to be avoided.  Not by you, of course – you’ll still need to stay up late, every night, worrying over the formatting and obvious typos.

Bloody flags?

Almost done!  A critical piece of your own, personal crazy-pants-puzzle that is often overlooked is very technical, but easy to take care of.  Simply update your software, right in the middle of your final work cycle.  You don’t have to go all-out and change operating systems (save that for later in your career, when you really need to go bat-shit-insane), but it’s never that difficult to upgrade whatever program you’re using to put the book together.  Just imagine the giant leaps backwards in your progress!  All of your checklists and milestones will have to be completely redone.  It’ll be like working on a brand new project.

If you’ve put the wrong foot forward and made careful missteps the whole way, you’ll be in the best position possible to screw up the last few, tiny details.  Your immune system will be working overtime, as you fight sleep-deprivation and hunger to get the completed book across the finish line.  You will have alienated your friends, co-workers and support network (and probably your children) with your erratic behavior, to the point where they don’t care if you work yourself to death anymore.  Eye strain and a nervous tic will transform you into a hideous caricature of your former, vigorous self.  And those last few, itty bitty, teensy-weensy errors will just *POP* into place – just like magic.

They will manifest as an author name being spelled wrong, or a uploading the wrong version to the distributor’s website.  You might cut & paste the wrong section of the book description, or substitute your personal email address for the company one.  My favorite was the time I tried to upload a book using my personal Amazon log-in, rather than the one for publisher.  Sure, these aren’t big, terrible, life-changing problems, but in terms of making yourself crazy, they pack a lot of firepower.

Remember, everybody makes mistakes, but they don’t let it drive them insane.  If you want your mistakes to keep you awake at night – or just wipe the smile off your face – you’re going to have to work twice as hard.  Being an editor is a difficult job, all by itself, but there’s no reason why you can’t make it even worse.  By following these easy instructions, you’ll be well on your way to screaming incoherently at strangers in the parking lot in no time.

 

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  When he’s not lying awake at night, wondering if he changed those straight-quotes back into smart-quotes, you can find him wandering the aisles of the grocery store, looking for bear-bacon and elbow grease.

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How To Make Yourself Crazy, Part One: REVISIONS

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
-Leonardo da Vinci

I picked up a novel that I’d tossed into the filing cabinet over a year ago.  It should be perfectly safe, right?  It’s cooled off and I should be able to approach it with a fresh perspective.  After all, I’m a different, better writer/editor than I was back then – an entirely different person, right?  Well, not so much.  Ten pages into the review and I can see the good and the bad.  Fifty pages in and all the angst creeps back into my mind.  One hundred pages in and I can’t even remember my own name.

This is how you drive a writer/artist/editor absolutely crazy:  Make them read their own work.  Especially long fiction.  Oh my.  It’s like a tour of your own subconscious mind, but only the bad parts.  All the insecurities and cringe-worthy habits come bubbling back to the surface.  Terrible turns of phrase and paper-thin characters leap from the prose and bludgeon you with their awkward presence.  The entire work seems to be a Frankenstein monster, built out of the demented portions of your imagination.  Every horrible thing you’ve ever written, every weak trope you’ve used as a crutch, they seem to have found a home in your once-precious so-called ‘book’.

Like the fool that you are, you roll up your sleeves and get to work though.  You start by making notes and comments.  When you examine the structure and find out where the big gaps are, you figure out how to build it up and flesh it out.  You brainstorm and come up with a way to tie up all the loose ends.  If you listen to your characters, they’ll tell you how they want things to play out and you discover the obvious solution to that nagging, missing element.  Yes, you dive in, because you can’t NOT do the work.

It burns your mental fuel and drains your reserves of patience and energy.  The narrative climbs in through your eyes and makes a nest in your active mind.  The story interrupts you while you’re taking a shower and making dinner, when you’re at the dentist and when you’re trying to fall asleep.  Like an invasive weed, it wants all the territory it can take root in.  And what do you do?  You let it.  Because you have to.

Here’s the good news.  It happens to all of us and we have a good chance of survival.  All you have to do is get through it.  The work is what seems important because it is.  When you’re in it and the engines of creation are at their maximum power things get accomplished.  Don’t fight it, work with it.  Yes, it makes you crazy.  Yes, it might destroy your social life.  But it’s for a good cause.

Revising our work is almost as intense as the initial writing, but it’s so much more important.  If the first draft is like giving birth, then the road to the final draft is like raising a child.  To do a good job requires active, constant attention, and the right set of tools.  Let’s be honest with ourselves.  Anybody can have a kid and anybody can write a book.  The good kids and the good books have a lot in common; you have to put in a lot of work and they are guaranteed to make you insane. 

In the end, however, it’s all totally worth the effort.  Now, get back to work.

 

When he’s not giving others the advice he so badly needs to hear himself, Patrick Jennings-Mapp is working on the third revision of that damn novel.  No, not that one – he stopped that one – the other one.  Yes, the one with the crazy people.  (sigh)  No, the other one with the crazy people…

 

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