For the last year, I’ve been pretty busy. In addition to working, driving my two boys to their sports practice and school clubs, choir and play practice, attending their games and band concerts (not to mention my own musical commitments), trying to read and keep up with Hidden Staircase, and squeezing in time for social interactions with friends and family, I’ve been busy editing my husband’s first (and only? Not sure on that one yet) book.
In 2014, he decided to race the Tour Divide (wow, does their page need updating, I thought I was behind) – an unsupported 2700 mile bike ride along the Continental Divide from Banff, Canada to the US/Mexico border at Antelope Wells, New Mexico. And when he got home, he wanted to write about it.
Andy has chronicled the writing process and the editing process over on his blog. I was going to just pop a link up here to his blog post so you all could see this huge project we’ve been collaborating on, but reading his point of view of editing from the writer’s standpoint made me want to give you the experience from the editor’s standpoint.
I thought that editing his book would be pretty easy. After all, in my day job I’m a technical writer and editor. I figured it would take a few weeks and we’d be good to go. Here we are, a year later, and we’ve just finished the third (and hopefully final) edit of the book. It turned out to be difficult for a few reasons. It was harder than I thought to squeeze the extra time into my day to read through the book. Sometimes I just didn’t have the time. In fact, most of the time I ended up editing during time I would normally have spent reading or blogging. I found that with our busy schedules that’s what had to give. And I didn’t realize how hard it would be for my husband to watch me make changes to that first draft.
We printed out a hard copy of the book and I set to work with my purple pen. On the days I was able to make edits, he eagerly would take the draft and work through my edits and suggestions on his soft copy. But I could see his disappointment at seeing any purple ink on that previously pristine page.
The first few chapters of the first draft I tried to go easy. A little punctuation, a little sentence structure, a note asking a question. I explained why we needed to eliminate the passive voice and use active verbs instead. We would talk through why I changed things. I wanted him to understand I liked the ideas, and was just trying to help the book flow better.
After he got used to the fact I was actually marking up his book (around chapter four), I really went to town. I deleted, I moved things around. I eliminated excess and made notes on where I thought he needed to add more to the story. Sometimes we worked together to add dialogue, or on a page where I wasn’t quite sure what idea he was trying to get across.
It’s not easy to make changes for someone whose work is so personal. It’s a lot easier at work when we’re describing boxes and how they work together as a system than someone’s memoir. And not just someone’s memoir. My husband’s memoir. Those first few chapters I worried about hurting his feelings and not wanting him to think I didn’t like his book. I did like it. But as his unofficial editor, I knew my job was to make it read better. And, three drafts later, I hope I’ve accomplished that.
We are finally nearing the end of this adventure. He’s got a few tasks left to finish and then my purple pen can retire. At least for a while.