Harvey Stanbrough’s poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, The National Book Award, and the Inscriptions Magazine Engraver’s Award. He’s also one heck of a great editor. If you’re interested, visit his website, www.stonethread.com
What is your biggest pet peeve when editing?
Having to convince writers that someone else’s advice was bad. For example, some writing instructors tell writers to delete all instances of “had” from their writing, or to delete all “ing words” (gerunds) because they create passive voice. The truth is, past progressive and past participle are necessary in fiction. There are a lot of bad writing instructors out there passing out bogus information, and a lot of them are in college and university programs.
2. How many times should an author self edit a book before sending it to an editor?
The author should at least put it away for awhile, at least a week or two, and then re-read it with fresh eyes. Make any changes that jump out at you, then send it to an editor. I strongly recommend against writing by committee. You can employ readers to give you recommendations, but consider those recommendations and then apply the ones that you believe help the work and discard the rest. If you change the character, story, etc. each time someone says you should (especially if that someone is not a professional writer or editor), you’ll never get your work published.
3. Could you discuss your “leave the lady in the shower” technique?
Author C. J. Cherryh once said to avoid writers’ block, leave your character in the shower when you stop writing for the day. When you come back to writing, you’ll have to write the character out of the shower before you can do anything else, and that will get you back in the flow of your WIP.
4. If you could give writers only one suggestion, what would it be?
If any writing instructor (myself included) tells you something that he or she can’t explain to your satisfaction, don’t listen. For example, the writing instructor who says “show, don’t tell.” When a student asks what that means, the instructor says something like “Well, I can’t explain it but I know it when I see it.” No, he doesn’t. If he knew it when he saw it, he could explain it. And if I were invited to give writers a second suggestion, it would be this: Don’t allow your narrator to use the physical or emotional sense verbs (saw, could see; heard, could hear; etc). Instead, have the narrator describe the scene; then the reader can experience it right along with the character. The narrator’s only task is to describe the scene, period. This is also called “deep point of view (POV).”