Great Editing Is a Conversation

I know—I’m one of the luckiest people on the planet because I get to freelance in the RPG industry as my full time job. And it’s awesome. But, like any job, sometimes it’s frustrating and uninspiring. Occasionally, you really do just want to sit around and watch some stupid TV instead of plowing through that text, no matter how cool the project is. So even in a dream job, sometimes you need a reminder of exactly why you love this job.

That happened for me a week or so ago. I’d finally worked my way through my first edit of the Las Vegas chapter of the Paranet Papers (upcoming supplement for the Dresden Files RPG), so I sent it back to the primary author, Leonard Balsera. My editing style typically involves lots of comments—I see editing as a conversation with the author—so I’m always slightly neurotic when I send a document back. I want to hear answers and responses to the comments I posted. (This is part of why I love working with Clark, even if the editor/writer/spouse dynamic requires a little work sometimes. But he’s the only writer I get to work with face to face on a regular basis.)

Lenny and I set up a Skype call and together we worked through the chapter. And it was so much fun. Instead of Lenny just quietly making or ignoring whatever changes I’d suggested, it was a real conversation—our brainstorming together on how to deal with things will make Las Vegas that much stronger after the next revision. I was reminded that my comments and suggestions, made in relative isolation, are only the beginning of an idea. It’s when the writer takes those and runs with them that things get really interesting. And that’s all the more obvious when I can work together simultaneously with the author.

In less than an hour, together we came up with probably too many cool things to put in the chapter. And most of them weren’t just prompts that might or might not work—they were full-fledged ideas that just needed some finessing to be finished, because our interaction let us work through them immediately.

Even though my work day looks a lot like me sitting home alone on my sofa with the cat and a laptop, my favorite part of it is interacting with other people and seeing how what we create together is better than what we create alone, or even working in tandem. Las Vegas is a much stronger chapter now that I’ve edited it—not because I’m some brilliant person who has the best ideas ever, but because Lenny and I bring out the best in each other when we work together.

In many ways, it’s the people I get to work with on a project that make me excited about it—thus my recurring work with Evil Hat and with Cam Banks. And that conversation with Lenny the other night is a perfect example of that. I’d work with Lenny on just about anything.

All too often, an editor is brought in at the end of a project, especially when the expectation is primarily copy editing. By the time the editor sees the text, the writers are done—they’ve moved on to other things. If you’re trying to engage in conversation, the best you can do is yell at their backs and then talk with the project manager. While I certainly see the efficiency that provides, I don’t think it’s the best approach for making a great product. If I know the writer will never see my comments, I have to admit that they get a lot more snarky and a lot less constructive. If no one will see my changes and comments, I get neurotic—I don’t ever want my first look at a document to be the last time anyone looks at it before it goes to print unless my only role is proofreader.

I do think I’m a good editor (I’ll try not to wrench my shoulder patting myself on the back). I have the obsessive eye for detail and natural grasp of grammar that tends to characterize many editors. But while my love of words is part of it, the main reason I love editing is the interaction with the different people on the projects—whether it’s a manic flow of ideas like with Lenny or a snarky, sibling-like wrestling with text like I tend to have with Cam or a calmer discussion-based approach like Clark and I typically have. It’s definitely one of those “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” kinds of things, and the more those parts interact and feed off of each other, the greater that whole will be.


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