Thursday, October 8, 2009

Revise? Or advise?

Somehow I am still surprised at how the process of line editing can cause me to go back and revisit the work at a higher level.

When I posted an excerpt from Chapter 6 on Holiness, after having read through it, I thought it was in fairly solid shape. But once again — by now I should know to stop predicting these things — when I settled into the editing process I realized that additional changes were probably in order.

This is not Brian's fault. Writing anything of any substance is a process of continual reworking. I once read  that in a reasonably well-written book the average sentence will have been redone seven times. That sounds about right. If anything, it's conservative. As I recall, Josh Harris once told me he rewrote the opening chapter to I Kissed Dating Goodbye 12 times. Of the 12 or 15 complete books I have edited, only two did not need substantial work, and one of these still needed to have several chapters shuffled around.

The Holiness section reproduced in that earlier post had four subheads appearing under a main heading:

Moral Perfection
Fully Realized Human Holiness
Shuddering, Yet Aglow with Fire

It seems quite obvious now, but during the line-editing phase I realized that consecration and moral perfection were being presented as the two principal attributes of holiness as defined by Scripture, while the following two sections are not about attributes at all. The third section is about Christ as the perfect embodiment of holiness, and the final section speaks of the human response to divine holiness, as we find it to be both irresistibly attractive yet terribly fearsome in light of our sin.

I sent these ideas back to Brian along with some other observations about the chapter, and he will be getting to them as he can. "Fixing this" probably does not require wholesale change but it can, through some simple matters of framing, labeling via headlines, and transitions between sections, bring big improvements in clarity for the reader.

It seems that Brian and I are continuing to settle into a good shared approach and division of labor. One of the things I seem to be able to do, after having had a few exchanges with an author, is to sense where the line is between simply performing edits myself, even if they are substantial, and sending a section or a chapter back to the author with my thoughts and observations. When I send this kind of material back to Brian, for example, his familiarity with the teaching content, his clearer sense of what he hopes for the book to accomplish, his superior theological understanding, and his not insignificant writing gifts can probably move these sections or chapters closer to the goal line, and do it more efficiently, than I could have myself.

Deciding whether to do the work myself or to send it back to the author has to do with my comfort level on matters such as these:

  • Do I understand what the author is trying to do at this point in the book?
  • Do I know what the book ought to be doing at this point? (Sometimes these are not the same thing, which can raise another level of questions about whether to consult with the author or just press ahead.)
  • Is there material in this chapter or section that has ramifications for chapters that have already been edited or are in the process of being worked on by the author?
  • Given all this, does it make more sense for me to work on this section or chapter, or to return it to the author with my suggestions and observations?


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