American Writer and Editor, Vanessa Anderson:
"Write for you first and the rest will fall into place."
Interviewed by Elham Nosrati
November 20, 2018
This week we had the pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Anderson, the American writer and editor. Vanessa Anderson graduated from Indiana University in 2008 with degrees in Psychology, Creative Writing, and Journalism. She also received an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University, Louisville, KY in 2012. She has been freelance writing for nearly twenty years and professionally editing for seven. She has shared with us helpful hints on the importance of editing our writing works whether it is poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or technical writing.
1- Why having someone else edit your writing can be more effective?
Many new writers start out thinking they’re only “worthy” if their writing is as “perfect” as what’s on the shelves of their local bookstore, but they don’t realize that ALL of those books went through some sort of editing process with a professional copyeditor and/or line editor—often followed by multiple proofreaders. We all know that writing is a solitary endeavor, but the revision and editing process is not.
I’ve been hired by award-winning authors, including professors from Stanford and Princeton, and yet even I have proofreaders for my own writing. As writers, we get very engrossed in our own work, often to the point of not being able to see the forest for the trees. Just like it’s often easier to solve other people’s problems than our own, it’s much easier to catch someone else’s typos because we didn’t create them during a flurry of inspiration. Errors stand out like a 6-foot man in a bunny suit to a fresh pair of eyes.
Setting all that aside, the emotional support and confidence that comes from working with an editor grants peace of mind. You get to relax a bit and tell the story, knowing you’ve got that clear-eyed backup to clean up any loose ends.
2- How can editing elevate a writer’s writing?
Elaborating on my earlier comment about writers not being able to see the forest for the trees sometimes, we can get so caught up in our imaginary worlds that we struggle to fill in all of the necessary details for readers to settle in and trust the story. It’s all so vibrant and alive for us as we’re writing, we often fail to realize that at the start of a novel our readers are awkward spectators standing in an empty white room, waiting for the world we’ve imagined to be built around them. When the author forgets to add a window, per se, it leaves the reader wondering why there’s no window, and that thought process ejects the reader from the story before it’s even really begun. So again, getting those “fresh eyes” that can spot where necessary details are missing because they weren’t the one imagining what was supposed to be there to begin with is extremely important.
Also, a good editor will watch the “beats” of a story and let the author know when long sections of prose need to be broken up by dialogue or action, etc. We’re also prone to point out when character development (or anything happening) is conflictive with earlier chapters or the overall story. If writing were a sport, writers would be the players on the field and editors are the coaches on the sideline watching what the whole team (all elements of the story) are doing at once whilst taking notes on how to make it all come together as clearly and concisely as possible for the win.
3- In the short cycle of writing and publishing via social media, blogs and websites, what are your suggestions to keep up the quality of the material being published.
Plan for the extra time necessary to give the blog post or website content an extra pass before releasing it to the public. Personally, I like to write blog posts/site content at least a day in advance and give it another read in the morning before publicly posting it. Otherwise, have a proofreader (or your editor) give promo materials and press releases a quick glance. Try to have some “go-to” readers who will bounce a short piece back to you in under a week, which is often easier said than done. Most importantly, wait a day and give it another read with “fresh” eyes before posting or sending it to print.
Reading it out loud at least once is also a great self-editing practice. Changing the font size is another. Read it in a smaller then a larger font size than you typed it in and you’ll catch far more errors.
4- What is/are the most important advice[s] you have for writers as an editor?
Always write for you. Never for fame or money. That won’t come fast enough to replenish the inspiration well. Write for you first and the rest will fall into place.
If you’re working toward publishing…
A. Hire an editor—one who’s not your best friend. Even if you’re planning on submitting the manuscript to agents or traditional publishers, the market is so saturated and fierce, major publishers want work that is as clean as possible. They will still send it through a head editor to ensure there are no developmental issues and an army of proofreaders, but don’t ever fool yourself into thinking they’re struggling to find good work and will let an excessive number of errors slide. They won’t. You’ll never make it out of the slush pile. To get your foot in the door you need to submit near perfection. If hiring an editor is not something you’ll ever be able to do then amass a reliable army of beta readers.
B. Indie authors need to hire a cover designer. Your book cover is your billboard. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” may be an old idiom, but readers do—especially in the digital age. Unless you have professional experience in graphic design, do not design your own book cover. Besides not hiring an editor, this is the number one mistake most indie authors make. If you spent months, maybe years sewing a suit or gown for a special event would you wrap yourself in trash bags on the big night? No. So why slap an amateur cover design on your magnum opus and call it a day?
C. When it comes to novels, no matter how fast you write, marketing writing of any kind is a “long game”—whether traditional or indie published. Write and produce at your most comfortable pace to maintain quality-control of what you’re releasing to the public. Unlike with athletes and their fans, readers are not likely to give authors a second chance. So, don’t worry about what anyone else is doing at whatever pace. Whether it be two months, a year or longer, take the time you need to produce your best work for optimal reader retention. This works because readers are fiercely loyal, and if they loved your first book, they won’t hesitate to buy the sequel or your all new novel the following spring, etc. The key to a successful writing career is quality and consistency, not necessarily quantity.
5- Have you ever edited a book that makes you enjoy reading the content while editing?
I love writing that’s packed with unique metaphors and analogies and genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Where the author has stopped “telling” the story, sloughed inhibitions, and laid bare their characters' desires and insecurities so that the story takes on a life of its own and starts traveling through the subconscious in such a fluid way that the narrator’s voice feels like an extension of one’s own imagination. We may not all do that every step of the way, but I love finding those moments in the story, and pointing them out for my clients, so they can continually try to emulate that as often as possible. The more often I see those moments in someone’s work the more fun I’m having. Typos be damned, work with soul always resonates.
For Vanessa Anderson's Website: