Monday, August 6, 2018

How an editor writes

When I first caught the creative writing bug in junior high school, I had a lot of wrong ideas about writing. One was that every word I put down needed to be the perfect word on the first try. Needless to say, it was slow going. 

I’m not sure why I held that belief. Maybe I thought picking the right word on the first try saved me the time of going back several more times to edit. Maybe I was terrified of failure, or looking foolish. Whatever the reason, the phase didn’t last. My mom (and my English teacher; I was homeschooled) began picking apart my essays, proving that the perfectly crafted first-draft sentence definitely wasn’t.


I’ve done a 180 since then. Now, I believe the way I write a sentence couldn’t possibly be the way I want it (I’ve already deleted this sentence a few times). Sometimes this troubles me. I don’t want to spend time drafting a sentence I’ll surely delete. But I’ve figured out the reason for it:

I’m always an editor, even when I’m writing.

I can’t even begin to think about structure or style until I’ve thrown my haphazard musings onto the page, so I have an idea of what I’m working with. I’ve been known to write two thousand words while crafting a one-thousand-word article—many of which get rewritten again.

How can I choose the best word or phrase without the possible options in front of me? What better way to write a good sentence than to correct a bad one? Why take the time to stop and think of the right word when other ideas are crowding my brain, waiting to be let out?

It’s a commonly misattributed quote that carving a sculpture is simply taking a block of stone and cutting away everything that doesn’t look like the final product. If that’s true, then writing is like first expelling a rough chunk of stone from your brain, and then going to work on it with the carving tools. The polish cannot possibly come before the substance.

Just remember: Your first draft is only a block of stone, nothing pretty to look at. You and your editor will get to carve it into the work of art it will someday be.

*For the regular blog follower: I realize I never actually delivered my thoughts about The Last Jedi. I have yet to see it twice and hone my opinions about it, though that right there should tell you more about how I felt about it than any article.

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

The 'Last Jedi' Experiment: Part 1

Well, it’s that time of year again . . . 

Despite being bombarded with porg memes and reading trivia on friends’ Facebook pages, it just hit me Wednesday that Star Wars episode VIII: The Last Jedi is only a week away. I honestly haven’t been paying a lot of attention to the release date.

I haven’t seen a Star Wars trailer since early May. And I regret seeing that one.

Let me explain.

I shared in a post last year how much I love my first experience of something new. And I regularly complain that trailers give away far too much of a movie’s plot. So last year, looking ahead to the next numbered installation of the Star Wars franchise, I thought, “I’m going to see this anyway. What would happen if it was a complete surprise?” Would I enjoy the story more or less? Be satisfied by the ending, or be disappointed by my own expectations?

How hard is it to avoid spoilers and media of all kinds leading up to The Last Jedi’s release? At first, I didn’t think it was possible. But around February or March of this year, before any trailer had come out, I thought, What could it hurt to try?

My rules were:

1. Hide from Star Wars trailers, clips, articles, spoilers, and basically as much media as I can, all the way up to the day I see it.

2. Don’t be a jerk. If something major gets spoiled, accept it and document how long the experiment lasted.

To my own shame, I was the first to break the streak. Thinking it would be rude to theater goers to walk out during Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 trailers, and thinking I’d never make it through the rest of the year anyway, I sat through an early preview. And I really don’t remember much of it anymore. Just Luke’s ominous “It’s time for the Jedi to end” line.

I got smart when I went to see Thor: Ragnarok and brought along a pair of earbuds. That worked well, except that the trailer started pretty inconspicuously (for me, anyway, who didn’t know what to expect), and I got a few seconds of Snoke voiceover before realizing what was happening and cranking up Hamilton songs on my phone.

So there you have it. I know Luke wants the Jedi to end, Snoke and Kylo will be a big deal. I’ve also seen a lot of movie art, so I know that Rose is a new character. And porgs. It’s hard to miss those.

Porg knows to get excited for The Last Jedi.
But skipping, and wanting to skip, most of the spoilers has been pretty easy. Way easier than I thought. And I probably have a lot of wrong ideas in head my from hints dropped or old false leads I accidentally glimpsed, so it won’t really be a blind first impression.

The biggest downside, however, is that my mindset about the movie hasn’t changed much since a year ago. I’ve been worried Last Jedi will be far too much like The Empire Strikes Back, I’ve been afraid Snoke’s reveal will be lame or predictable, and I’ve been complaining that Luke will just be Kevin Flynn from Tron: Legacy

Rey is messing with Luke's zen thing.
I found myself not very excited to see it—until I began to think about writing this post. Until I began looking up show times. Until I forgot I was going to marathon all eight movies sometime this fall (oops).
Next weekend, I’m sure to be as excited as anyone watching The Last Jedi. And I’m asking you, my readers, to help me out in my last few days of radio silence. I’ll be entering self-imposed social media blackout soon, but please, for the sake of science, just steer away from the conversation at all for now. We’ll have plenty of time to talk later.

So for now, have a merry Star Wars—I mean Christmas. See you in two weeks!

P.S. Check out my tweets about watching through the movies in preparation (no marathon, and I skipped episodes I and II) with the hashtag #starwarswatchthrough.

Image credits:

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

My favorite editing movies

Since this blog is primarily about editing, I knew I needed to round up my favorite editing movies. My problem? There aren’t that many. I guess fewer Hollywood writers are also editors. Nevertheless, I’ve compiled what I’ve seen:



You’ve heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. You might have heard of Thomas Wolfe. But have you heard of Max Perkins? He’s the editor who saw the potential of these authors and mentored them to success. This movie makes editing almost look painful, with the pages and pages of manuscripts and endless rewrites—unless you love it as much as Max does. Note to authors: Don’t be married to your words. I’m not sure I’d ever spend as much time cutting them as Max did for Tom.


Julie and Julia

Besides giving an inside look at writing, this film provides a sneak peek into the work of another editor, Judith Jones of Knopf (it’s pronounced Kuh-nopff). If only food could win me a book contract... But the best scene with Judith is the one in her office, where she and Julia are trying on book titles. I’m terrible at good titles myself, and I really want to recreate this scene someday for my own book!

Title meetings are a real thing that happens at publishing houses. During my internship at Focus on the Family, I got to sit in on one that finalized the name of a book about C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity. Picking just the right title isn’t easy, and the meeting wasn’t quick.


Back Page

This one is about newspapers and reporting, but the main character is a newspaper editor. A small-potatoes writer at the Associated Press in the 1930s gets a job at a small paper with a small staff in a small town, but she becomes a big deal fast when she shows local business owners they can’t control her. If I were going to pull a teachable moment from this movie, it would be, “blackmail can solve your problems,” (whatever happened to “all the news that’s fit to print”?) so I’ll just recommend this film for entertainment value.


Shattered Glass

Again, journalism plays a large role here, but this movie gives a detailed and realistic look at the editing process at a reputable magazine—one that will get in big trouble if something is wrong. And maybe that’s part of the irony of this film that I never noticed before: No number of red pen passes from editors in an office will spot the type of deceptions Stephen Glass weaves, if he does it well enough. Sometimes fact checking requires a detailed and thorough examination of what’s being presented. Photos would’ve helped too.

I know there’s more movies out there starring editors (The Devil Wears Prada, Fatal Attraction), but they’re not always about the editing. Which ones do you like?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

My favorite writing movies

The tortured soul trying to beat a bad case of writer’s block into submission. The frustrated has-been desperately trying to breathe fresh life into his words. The free spirit who doesn’t care about people or popularity, just prose. We’ve all seen the stereotypes of writers—and the not-so-stereotypical—played out in movies. Below, I’ll share a few of my favorite films featuring writers, and what I learned from them:

Julie and Julia (2009)

This one gets bonus points; it’s about two writers. And the message in it that can get lost in failed recipes, the enchantment of Paris, and life after thirty is how hard it is to write and how long it takes to write well, especially when you have a full-time job, especially when you don’t have a network of writers around you. But Julia and Julie persevered, because if those real-life characters hadn’t, we wouldn’t have a movie.

What I learned: Keep at it, because you never know how far you’ll go. (Also, having co-authors can be both messy and fun.)


The Ghost Writer (2010)

I confess, I first watched this because it starred Ewan McGregor. But the noir-style suspense and intrigue, combined with a writer’s mundane struggles to write a book of someone else’s stories, kept me hooked. 

What I learned: Think twice before accepting a ghostwriting job for a controversial political figure. But seriously, ghostwriting’s an interesting profession. Never assume that famous figure on the cover wrote their book alone, even if you can’t find another name. To paraphrase one ghostwriter: “The only place your name has to be is on the check.”


The Rewrite (2014)

How do you break the curse of being a one-hit wonder? Hugh Grant learns that it’s about more than the next big sale, and gives at least one full lecture’s worth of writing advice by the time the credits roll. Plus, I’m pretty sure most of us see ourselves in one of his students—the nerd writing thinly-veiled Star Wars fanfic (guilty), the lovebird who clues in her crush through her stories, or the troubled teen with baggage that only comes out as her screenplay plot develops.

What I learned: If your goal is fame, you won’t last long. Find what about writing really makes you passionate.


Inkheart (2008)

I admit this wasn’t a great movie. I admit I went to see it with a friend and might not have otherwise. I admit I never actually read the book this was based on. But one moment captured me forever: when the author of Inkheart, whose characters are escaping into the real world and vice versa, sees his protagonist standing in front of him. The look on his face made me want to do anything, write anything, to experience what he experienced. Such is the power of a good story.

What I learned: Write fiction that will make your fans want to cosplay your characters. A surprisingly good motivator.


Little Women (1994)

This has stayed in my top five favorites out of all movies for most of my life. My family watches it nearly every Christmas. Once in junior high, I declared I was sick of it and decided to go on strike, but I could hear it from my bedroom and succumbed after ten minutes of listening to young Christian Bale.

Anyway, I’ve long related to Jo March and her quest for authorship, right down to her love for absurd adventure pulp stories (remember, Star Wars fanfic?). What published author can’t relate to her romp around the house after getting her first payment for something she wrote? Or her late nights of dreaming and scribbling? Jo gets us.

What I learned: Dont be afraid to chase after your ambitions. Write what’s close to your heart.

What writerly movies inspire or motivate you? What’s something I should add to my list?

(This is part one of three, with my favorites about editing and newspapers to come.)