Today I’m happy to interview EJ Runyon who has a new book coming out. EJ has served as my development editor on many of my writing projects.
Questions for EJ
1. What’re the differences between editors and writers, and did you start out as a writer first?
Story Editors can sometimes also be writers of their own books. I am, I write literary fiction and writer’s guides, as well as coaching newbies, and running story edits for folks. Writers might find it hard to be their own story editors. Writers need two types of editors: Story editors and Copy editors. But editors only need one type of writer: someone with a manuscript they want to work on.
2. Tell us what drew you to want to be involved in editing.
Stories spark me. They light up my mind. Ironically, I’m a gifted know-it-all. It’s in my blood to show folks how to do things better, easier, more elegantly. Bad for a marriage partner or Mom, but great as a Story Editor. Combine that with what I notice about someone’s writing, and with every new story I come across I can see into the writer’s mind for their intentions, and that translates for me into…just wanting to help you with your vision. Who better to learn from than someone invested in what you want to create?
3. What’s your general approach (philosophy) of Story editing?
No one has a bad idea. I’ve been coaching one-on-one since 1997, and no one has ever shown me a bad idea for a story. I might advise the story start later or sooner, that the characters zig instead of zag in crucial story moments, or say things in stronger narrative, or with fewer words because storytelling doesn’t need so many words. But everyone’s idea is worth capturing, then writing out in stronger ways of storytelling. I’m all about your story. I want to midwife all your stories to let them come alive on the page. That’s my philosophy.
4. What’s one of your editing “pet peeves”? And did you used to do it before you started editing?
I used to think, way back when I was just finishing short stories, that story editors were there to clean up my work. It took me a while to realize they’re there to help craft a stronger story from my supposedly final draft. Once I learned to value the copy I turned over to the editor, I always made sure I had done all I could do to it first. I think I became a stronger writer. It taught me so many things I never realized I was doing, grammatically and with my line mechanics. Things I should have caught way sooner. So the pet peeve, is that level of pride we skip, thinking someone else will be the left side of our brain for us. It just doesn’t work that way.
5. Do you seek editing help for your own writing?
Not with the Development of story, since I’m doing alright with that, based on reviews. But I do have a copy editor. Definitely. I’m rather lysdexic. I need all the help I can get (plus there’s that problem with commas). Clean work means happier readers. I want my reviews to focus on the reader’s reaction to my story.
6. What do you consider most challenging aspect when editing other’s work?
One thing is how I talk to my editing clients about their story. It’s a personal, fragile thing they’ve created, so I take great pains to have my words heal, and not harm. Every new writer is risking showing their work to someone. I have to respect that risk they take, and advise accordingly. I allow questions. I ask opinions, I use words like consider, and I suggest. Because it’s their story. Not mine to decide on.
7. What do authors frequently overlook, or don’t consider when creating?
That the reader loses a chance to see things in their own heads, if you, authors, feed them every little detail. I call these the givens. Think of two folks in a scene, say two brothers, if you’re writing, “Get out of here,” Sean shouted to him.
That given is the ‘to him’ part of the line. If you’ve got straight narrative telling your reader, He held the book in his arms… well, in his arms is a bit of a given. He’s not holding it between his toes, or his knees, if you see what I mean.
8. What is a common struggle faced by most writers?
I think on my end of things I see most, as a coach and a story editor, it’s usually one of three state of things for a writer:
Not believing you need help
Agreeing you can afford help.
Thinking help has to be expensive or it’s not worthwhile.
Not everyone gets past the first one and their work remains at its beginner state of expertise.
And with the last one, folks can be taken, by unscrupulous services who want all that the traffic will bear from novices.
9. Is there ever a point where you need to stop editing a piece…. when is it “done”?
This is a gut thing I think. If you’re afraid, as the author, when you’re doing it. It’s time to back away and hand the work to your story/copy editors. Every new writer either does way too little revisions. Or not enough.
For me as a story editor, it comes down to: Did we get this to where we agreed you wanted it to be?
10. What one piece of advice you would give writers?
Every new writer needs help. If you haven’t taught yourself how to write, like I did by tearing down stories to see what made them work so well, try that. If you worry that won’t work for you, get help from someone like me.
I’m still teaching myself stronger ways of writing my fiction. There are books, not just mine. There are websites. There are folks like me teaching beginners, and not so new writers, how to write stronger. Find them. Use what they have to offer. It’s a sad thing, a story that could’ve been better, that goes unnoticed because of the writing. Especially when we’re out here willing to help.
Thank you so much for answering my questions. EJ’s new book releases this week with the intention of helping writers succeed in their dreams of impoving thier craft. Check it out..