How You Approach Editing a Manuscript

There are many moments to stop and appreciate in the editing process: cracking open a Google Doc; diving into a brand-new word document; lining up fancy red-ink pens and curling up on the couch with The Chicago Manual of Style. Or maybe you prefer the middle of the editing process, when you’re halfway through the manuscript and you can finally start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Or perhaps you crave the every end, when you’ve completed an editorial note that leaves you and your author emotional and weak in the knees.

Yes, there are so many moments to take in during the editing process, but perhaps one of the most basic considerations is how it all happens. There are certain things that have to happen, but they might not always happen in the right order or in the same way for everyone. If they happen and they happen well, is the how really that important? Maybe. Maybe not.

There are different schools of thought—at times, it seems like working in the book-publishing industry consists entirely of navigating different schools of thought. There are some folks who take at least one or two passes over a manuscript before even starting the developmental edit. There are some who read the manuscript once, take notes, and then reread sections as the edit unfolds. There are some managing editors who edit alongside their team, while others wait until the teamwork is completed and edit the manuscript as they compile. There is a lot of variation in personal preference and style, and there is likely some amount of superstition involved too: wearing red socks during the editing process; starting immediately on a fresh new manuscript while the editing fever is hot and heavy; working on only one edit at a time; bouncing between multiple edits for short time periods.

There is no right or wrong way to approach editing a manuscript if the edit itself is done well. There are people who swear by certain techniques, but those techniques are not always going to work for every person. Nor should they. And let’s face it: some of them are just plain weird and would only work for a specific individual anyway.

One of the steepest learning curves for editors who’ve just started out in the publishing world is learning how they approach editing—what works best for them. And the only way to discover this about yourself is to edit. It’s to dive in with both feet (and, of course, some education and guidance) and see where the editing stream takes you.

Your approach to an edit is going to be different and look different from the approaches of the editors around you, but there is one essential element that remains the same: you should always be willing to point out the error, suggest ways to fix it, and accept when you need to step back. There are so many things you can do in an edit. But just because you can make a certain edit doesn’t always mean you should.

In that way, editing is less an exercise in practice and more an exercise in philosophy. And along with the practical decisions (e.g., reading a manuscript twice, reading once while taking copious notes, editing a paper copy with a pen and transferring your edits to a digital format later, reading on a Kindle, etc.), one of the most important elements to consider is your approach as an editor—what you will do, and why you will do it. What is your editing goal?

Knowing yourself as an editor, as a reader, and as a writer is going to shape how you approach a manuscript. That kind of knowledge can’t be taught in a classroom or at a job. It’s deeply personal and something only you can figure out. Good luck out there.

Poetic Communication: What it means for writers and editors

There is a narrative we tell ourselves about writing and writers that kills me. It is the myth that good writing, Literature (with the coveted capital l) is the stuff of mystery and magic, a spark of inspiration, that can not be taught. I say this with great love for my creative writing professors, who were all brilliant writers. But when they say great writing can’t be taught, I find myself refraining from calling bullshit.

Framing the writer as a conduit for the story or as someone who merely receives a spark of inspiration removes the creator from their creation. Why would you do that? Let me explain.

In my undergraduate years, I experienced a series of writer’s blocks because I felt that without that spark, I was not a writer. Even if I couldn’t create, in order to be a productive writing scholar, I began studying linguistics and philosophy. I wanted to understand Literature and how it was created. I had the opportunity to explore this topic in a Philosophy of Language course, and it has taken on a life of its own in both my scholarly and personal life. It is an obsession of mine that I wish to communicate in this post.

First, let’s talk about poetic communication and how it can help the communication between writers and editors.

Poetic communication is an intriguing branch of the philosophy of language because it involves the work of literary criticism, linguistic theory, and cultural studies. To define certain aspects of poetic communications, I will be quoting Roland Posner’s Rational Discourse and Poetic Communication.

Posner would definitely disagree with my findings that poetic communication plays an important role in Literature, as he sees Literature as the “secondary automatization” or “de-poetization” of poetry. Meaning poetic technique becomes a part of Literature after it has fallen from the pedestal of poetic communication and becomes “a mere element of literary style.”

To keep this brief, let’s focus on two features of poetic communication. Function one: “Poetic communication de-automatizes the recipient’s relation to society and reality.” In other words, Posner says poetry makes the reader aware of an action that would otherwise be automatic or unconscious. To use a literary term, poetry takes an otherwise tired convention and makes a new experience out of it, thus causing the reader to react to it. In doing this, we come to function two: “[Poetic communication] brings the recipient into contact with characteristics of reality which…usually remain hidden.” In creating a conscious experience out of an otherwise automatic action, the poet reveals a hidden aspect of reality. This hidden reality is the magic of poetry; it reveals our lives in a way that makes us conscious of the human experience. Their stories and their words are never automatic, but keep a reader checked into the story.

But what exactly does this mean for writers and editors?

Creating an original voice, going against the grain of convention, has little to do with the spark we have been told about in our writing workshops or by other successful authors. Rather, it is a conscious effort to know the rules and when to innovate. A young man pursuing his B.A. in writing told me the other day that he heard Stephen King say his ideas come from a spark. And even though I couldn’t verify King mentioning this with a quick Google search, the myth perpetuates itself.

So, to writers and editors alike, when you come across a tired metaphor, a line that goes past your eyes as swiftly as the scenery passing in a moving train, consider it. Consider what can be done to give it life, to give it consciousness. That is where the capital L can be found.

A final note to editors: we are the first readers of a writer’s story. It is important to identify and respond to moments of convention and innovation in a writer’s text. At times, writers will unknowingly use conventions or something they picked up while reading. When this happens, it’s important to explain the conventions so that writers can more effectively utilize them.

I will leave you now with a line from Mark Turner’s The Literary Mind: “Our core indispensable stories not only can be invented, they must be invented if we are to survive and have human lives.”

Enactivism as a Goal in Digital Learning

Ooligan Press hosted the Transmit Culture: The Future of Children’s Reading panel last October, which focused on how ebooks were shaping children’s education. One thing that interested me was hearing that teachers were specifically looking for digital books designed for multimodal learning—learning that engages different sensory modalities like sight and sound to fit different learning styles. It seems like a perfect way to make interactive learning engaging.

I studied philosophy in my undergraduate years, and my school’s philosophy program had a big focus on the philosophy of perception. I studied Molyneux’s Problem, which asked if different sensory modalities communicated the same information by asking if someone who had touched a cube and a sphere but never had the faculty of vision would recognize the shapes if they were suddenly granted sight. If the corners and curves are understood right away, the senses themselves hold information about what corners and curves are. If the person doesn’t understand right away, it’s experience with a sense that teaches what a corner or a shape is in relation to the sensory modality.

Problems like this made me pay special attention when I came across the idea of enactivism. Enactivism, as Alva Noe explains at the beginning of Action in Perception, holds that “perception is not something that happens to us, or in us. It is something we do.” Instead of treating perception as something to be analyzed in snapshots, as often happens in the philosophy of perception, enactivism holds that perception is to be understood over time, with an active perceiver manipulating what they’re perceiving. Ask someone to close their eyes and place a ring in their hand, and they’ll move the object in their hand to get a sense of its shape. Forbid them from moving their hand, and they’ll have a very difficult time figuring out the shape from touch alone. The more opportunities Molyneux’s newly-sighted person has to manipulate the cube and sphere, perhaps by moving their head or body to see the shapes from different angles, the more opportunities they’ll have to understand what they’re perceiving and relate it to what they know of these shapes from touch.

Though it’s treated as a theory of perception, it offers insights into how learning may work. The perceiver’s ability to manipulate what they’re trying to perceive lets them understand what it is. This is surely what is meant when people say they learn best by doing. And learning what a real object is involves learning the agreement between the different sensory modalities—one can see there is a relationship between the feeling of a ball, the sight of it, and the sound it makes when bouncing off different kinds of surfaces.

What’s interesting about digital platforms, and what makes them challenging, is that the agreement between the senses has to be created by a programmer. A programmer can make tapping on an object create a sound, leave it silent, have it create a delayed sound, or create any other reaction they want. Because these connections are authored and because they’re not inherent to the type of object being depicted, what one learns about these interactions may only be true in one case. What we learn about a baseball is going to have relations to all baseballs, but what we learn about an app may only be true for that one app. Added to the problem is that there’s no connection between touch and what is being represented. The tactile sensation of interacting with any two apps on an iPad is identical.

I’m a big believer in digital reading, but the benefits of digital reading for young learners are difficult to realize, especially without a lot of thought about how sensory modalities relate to each other and without a strong emphasis on how young learners can manipulate what’s represented on the screen. One novel approach is suggested by Nintendo’s new Labo line of toys. Nintendo has designed papercraft accessories for their Switch gaming console, which users have to physically assemble to play with. Nintendo has found a way to extend the functionality of the tablet-like Switch using a form of print, adding tactile manipulation to give a new dimension to play. It’s worth investigating whether this enactive union of electronics and print has any applicable lessons for publishers trying to bring enactive learning to digital publishing.

Four Amazing Books You Won’t Find On Any Other Summer Reading List

By Rebekah Hunt
As the middle of summer approaches, people are getting ready to go on vacation (or are already on vacation, if they don’t go to summer school like I do). Anticipating the free time we’ve suddenly got, many of us are thinking about leisure activities like camping and going to the beach, or if you’re a huge nerd like me, reading for fun! The internet is absolutely chock-full of summer reading lists. However, I am constantly disappointed by the lightweight, pop-lit content of these lists. If we don’t want our brains to atrophy while we soak in the sunshine, we should probably read something intellectually stimulating. I’ve compiled a list of amazing, novel, bizarre, and interesting books guaranteed to keep your brain as bright as your glowing beach tan!
The Consolation of Philosophy
Boethius  (A.D. 524)
Sixth-century Roman philosopher Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius’ The Consolation of Philosophy is the last great Western work of the Classical Period. He wrote it while in exile awaiting execution on a trumped-up treason charge, and it was the last effort in his lifelong struggle to preserve ancient classical knowledge, particularly philosophy. It is written as an imaginary dialogue between himself and philosophy, personified as a woman.
The book argues that despite the apparent inequality of the world, there is, in Platonic fashion, a higher power and that everything else is secondary to that divine providence. While not explicitly Christian, it is considered to be the single most important and influential work in the West on Medieval and early Renaissance Christian philosophy.
The Liber Monstrorum
Possibly Aldhelm, et al. (late-seventh or early-eighth century)
The Liber Monstrorum is an Anglo-Latin catalogue of marvellous and fantastic creatures, which may be connected with the incredibly important and influential Anglo-Saxon scholar Aldhelm. It is transmitted in several manuscripts from the ninth and tenth centuries, but is often studied in connection with the far more popular Beowulf, since the Liber makes reference to some of the same people, including King Hygelac of the Geats.
This old English text is short enough to read while waiting for a bus, but offers a brilliant, thrilling, and often hilarious glimpse into the terrors that people believed walked the earth, and their ideas about things that actually did: from elephants and leopards to Minotaurs and Titans. For example, “…next to the river Euphrates they write that there is an animal which is called antelope, because with its long horns which have the shape of a saw it cuts through mighty oaks and fells them to the ground.” Amazing!
Liber Chronicarum
Hartmann Schedel (1493)
Hartmann Schedel was a German physician, humanist, historian, and one of the first cartographers to use the printing press. His Chronicarum (popularly known as the Nuremburg Chronicle, for where it was written) is an illustrated world history, in which the contents are divided into seven ages (First age: from creation to the Deluge; Second age: up to the birth of Abraham; Third age: up to King David; Fourth age: up to the Babylonian captivity; Fifth age: up to the birth of Jesus Christ; Sixth age: up to the present time; Seventh age: outlook on the end of the world and the Last Judgement). The Chronicarum’s beautiful maps were the first ever illustrations of many cities and countries, and are definitely worth looking over as an important piece of history and art.
Voltaire (1752)
While admittedly a short story rather than a full book, French philosopher and satirist Voltaire’s Micromégas (available as a free ebook!) is more than deserving of a place in this list. It is a significant development in the history of literature because, along with his story Plato’s Dream, it is a seminal work in the genre of science fiction. It recounts the visit to Earth of Micromégas, a being from a planet circling the star Sirius, and of his companion from the planet Saturn.
The home world of Micromégas is 21.6 million times greater in circumference than the Earth, and he stands 20,000 feet tall. He is banished from his world for writing a scientific book about insects, and takes the opportunity to travel around the Universe in a quest to develop his intellect and spirit. Micromégas and his friend wind up encountering humans, who test the philosophies of Aristotle, Descartes, Malebranche, Leibniz, and Locke against the travelers’ wisdom. I won’t spoil the ending because it’s pretty awesome, and if you’ve never laughed at jokes created before the electric light bulb, you’ve basically never lived.
Happy reading!
Image by Anne Adrian. Used with permission under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.