Check Your Edge

another set of eyesUsed to work with my buddy Mike. He serviced pet grooming equipment, which is way more fun and interesting than it sounds. Huge mobile workshop.

Biggest part of the business was sharpening clipper blades. Clippers have two blades sliding back and forth past each other so unlike knives, which need a beveled edge, clipper blades need to be flawlessly flat on their face, the surfaces where they meet.

When Mike first started training me, sometimes I’d ask him to check my edge. Are these sharp enough? Am I overdoing it, grinding too much metal away, shortening the life of the blade? Am I working fast enough?

Because he’s the closest friend I’ve had in my whole life, our conversations included a bunch of personal sharing you might not expect to find in a greasy hairy machine shop on a truck. Life, the universe, and everything — we covered it all.

In time, the phrase “check my edge” came to mean more than the mechanics of blade sharpening. I’m almost 20 years older than Mike. He grew up in the country, having adult responsibilities when he was quite young. We each had a vast storehouse of experience and knowledge the other didn’t. We shared. A lot.

When one of us asked the other, “Hey, check my edge?” it was about the value of another mind and heart, another set of life experiences, weighing in on a choice, a challenge.

When I wrote Through the Fog the people I had to check my edge were just my wife and adult daughter. It’s not a bad book, but it could be better.

Nowadays, I have a professional who checks my edge.

It is a two-edged sword.

When Tom sends my manuscripts back, I don’t even download them right away.

When I do, I glance through, just to see how much red there is. Don’t read anything if I can avoid it, just blur my vision and check for red.

Then, when I’ve steeled myself for the searing pain, I start reading his questions.

“Didn’t this door open the other direction in the last scene?”

“Until now, she has seemed quite sensible. Is this intended to be humorous?”

“As a writer, I see why you did this, but as a reader, I don’t get it.”

I made most of those up, and they’re far more aggressive and vague than anything Tom has ever asked. Rather, his questions isolate the flaws, and gently, kindly, nudge me into thinking more clearly about something which, verbally, didn’t convey the image in my head.

Another set of eyes makes all the difference in the world.

When I submitted A Long, Hard Look to him, I thought I’d written the perfect novel. Pretty sure he was just gonna catch a couple typos and fire it right back.

The rewrites, to remove logical inconsistencies and re-acknowledge the laws of physics, took a week, all day every day.

It’s tempting, when there’s no budget and it feels like there’s no time, to do it all yourself. My opinion is that if that’s your option, you take it. Never let anyone say you can’t edit your own work, design your own cover, all that.

If you can arrange another set of eyes, for love or money, not only will your readers get the gift of a better book, you’ll start to learn your weak spots. Maybe even have fewer of them.

If you love your book, love your editor.

9 thoughts on “Check Your Edge

  1. Great advice, Joel!

    Re: rewriting A Long, Hard Look:
    I feel your pain. It’s like taking your absolutely adorable, perfect offspring for a nose job, to have its spine straightened and its ears tucked because someone says it’s not beautiful as is. What do THEY know?

    One day, back when I was doing my newsletter, I edited a poem by changing one word (substituting a shorter synonym) to make the sentence fit on one line to make the whole poem fit on the one page I’d allotted for it. And did I ever get a nasty letter of complaint back from the poet! How dare I? She was never sending me another poem. (No loss. I published them as a favor to her.)

  2. This post is both beautiful and very informative. My editor is invaluable — and now unavailable as well…am going to look into Tom Bentley, you think??

    xoxo

  3. Joel, hadn’t seen this until just getting back from my Florida Key Liming. Of course, I don’t use a razor-edged weapon to edit, but rather an archeologist’s soft brush. (With perhaps a few carefully applied taps of that archeologist’s small hammer.)

    I’m grateful to edit your stuff, because it’s written with verve, and it’s entertaining, which can’t be said of some of my other projects. Just go through my marks with dark glasses on—that will soften the blows.

  4. This week I suffered through without my “edge checker” who was on vacation. Having another person to bounce ideas off of, take a look at something written going to a client, to edit a blog post I wrote, or just to listen when I need to vent is priceless!

    Thinking we MUST do everything ourselves is the greatest EGO myth out there! Life is so much better with an “edge checker” or two to partner with. Thanks for the insights you share. :)

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