The Art of Editing

Before COVID-19 changed all our lives, I facilitated a writer’s group and one of the members was Riley Pettyjohn. Besides writing, she was also taking an editing course and I’m pleased to introduce everyone to our newest certified editor.

Tell me a bit about the process you went through to become an editor.

At first, I wasn’t really sure how to go about getting into editing and publishing as a profession. While I was reading up on some other editors’ beginnings, I found the Editing Certificate course that the UW Professional & Continuing Education offers. So, I enrolled in November of 2019 and received my certificate early this December. The course was great—not only for editors, but writers, too! There are three consecutive classes you take in order to complete the program, each one focusing on a specific type of editing. The panel of instructors are all very knowledgeable and helpful in their editing specialties. One instructor, Ingrid Emerick, is a co-founder and CEO of a small self-publishing company in Seattle called Girl Friday Productions (GFP). She encouraged me to apply for their internship program. I was an Editorial Intern with GFP for about four months. Through the internship I got some real-world experience with the tasks of editors and was able to meet with several people from the various departments at GFP. It was the advice from my instructors in the editing course and the people of GFP that helped me to formulate my next steps as a new editor. I also just recently joined the Northwest Editors Guild and am a freelance editor there, but I’m still building my career.

How did COVID-19 impact you during this process?

I was extremely lucky that I had already opted for the online and self-paced version of the editing course back in 2019, so my schooling schedule was completely unaffected by COVID. But, sadly, my internship with GFP would have been in person had it not been for COVID. So, I missed out on that part of the experience. Luckily, I was able to use Zoom for meetings, and all my tasks were able to be done over the internet. I may have met even more people this way than I would have in person since some of the meetings I had were with people who worked out of state. So, there’s a silver lining to everything.

You are also a writer. How do you incorporate your editing skills into writing?

I think all this new knowledge of the editing process makes me look at writing differently than I did before; I have a more technical perspective. I think it’s helped make my writing more concise and easier to read when I look over it again. But my familiarity with The Chicago Manual of Style has sort of slowed my writing pace because I put more thought into the punctuation I’m using and the different rules I choose to follow as I write.

Do you find yourself editing as you write?

I do edit as I write. I try not to do it too much so that the thoughts can flow, then go back and clean it up. But I can get so caught up with trying to make everything perfect the first time around. I find myself reading over a line I just wrote a billion times, asking myself if it looks right. Meanwhile, my train of thought has been totally derailed. I even find myself editing my shopping lists. So, it’s a balance that I’m working on finding.

What do you think is the most important thing in a relationship between a writer and an editor, besides the obvious need for trust?

I think being flexible and open is really important on both sides, especially if an editor is working directly with an author. If both parties are willing to have an open discussion about the project they’re working on—to really listen and work together—everything will run pretty smoothly. 

There are a lot of editors who set specific standards, such as only Christian, certain genres, non-fiction, no poetry, etc. Do you anticipate doing something similar, and why, or why not?

Because I’m so new at it, I don’t really have specific things I won’t do yet. I’d like to try my hand at a lot of things, to keep my range broad and stay challenged. That said, my favorite things to work on so far have been novels, particularly fiction. I just love to be a part of bringing a story to life. And on the opposite end, while I enjoy reading it, I don’t see myself editing a lot of poetry.

On a similar note, is there a specific genre or type of writing that you find harder to edit than others?

I do find poetry to be hard for me. There are just so many more artistic aspects that need to be considered, and I’m unfamiliar with the technical styles involved. I also find extremely technical or scientific academic papers and textbook materials to be more challenging.

When did you first realize you were a storyteller?

I began writing as soon as I learned how; I don’t even remember the first time. I used to spend hours at my parents’ computer or with a notebook, typing or scribbling fairy stories. I was a chronic daydreamer—still am. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always “A writer.” 

How does being a writer impact the editor side of you?

I think my writer side ofttimes overpowers my editor side which allows me to be a little more empathetic to the writer as I read their work. But it can also be a struggle when I keep asking myself “Should I query this? What if it was an artistic choice? Who am I to question or change someone else’s writing?” And I have to remind myself that it’s just a suggestion and a writer may love or hate it, but it’s better to query than not when working as an editor.

If someone wants to hire you as an editor, where will they find you?

Currently, you can contact me through my email: riley.pettyjohn7@gmail.com

On LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rileypettyjohn/

Or on the Northwest Editors Guild Member Directory: https://www.edsguild.org/member-directory

What is one question I didn’t ask, that you wish I would have, and how would you answer it?

What types of editing do you do?

I enjoy copyediting and line editing the most, but I also like to proofread. I mostly like to polish up works and help them to shine. 

What are your goals as an editor?

My biggest goal is to get into publishing. I would love to work for a publishing house and help manuscripts become books.

Transition Stories

I’ve been struggling to write a new story for a year now. During all these months and discarded words and shifting ideas, (and some angst blog posts!) I’ve put a lot of thought into why this one is so hard. I’m finally recognizing these things.

My writing has changed. Not the process, but the stories that come to me. I don’t even really read the genre I always wrote in – mysteries – any more. I have spent this past month clinging to what I used to do, only to realize I’ve been letting go for some time without knowing it. I think a seed of change fell when Sam died. The third year anniversary of his death will be here in days. Another seed when my sister died. That first anniversary was just here. Another seed was the arrival of COVID-19. The virus forced me to look at old nightmares and fears and why I move through life the way I do.

All of those things make me lean more, now, to stories about loss and grief and letting go, and the need to believe that myth and magic are still out there somewhere.

I’ve been trying to make the new story into something its not. Even the characters have been trying to tell me to knock it off. Last week I wrote a scene of dialog between two characters. After, I wondered if I’d given away too much, too soon. But then it dawned on me why I kept going back to that scene. One character says to the other ‘in other words it could be this, or that, or something else entirely!’ and I realized they were telling me I didn’t have a clue what the story was about.

And all of that makes me realize I have to finally, fully, let go of what I wanted this to be originally, and let the characters live their story. I also realized that this one may simply be a transition story for myself that never gets published or shared. It may be my way of learning what no longer works. I think this will actually end up being a short story or novella. The ending feels near.

This story is set in a place I visit but don’t live. I love that area but in writing, I feel like a visitor, just touching the surface of the land. That works okay in one way because the protagonist is a visitor, so the place won’t feel like home to her until the end. But it’s shown me the words don’t flow as easily on land I’m not immersed in.

Recently I was talking over all this with a friend who is having similar struggles with her art. She suggested I take a notepad and walk in the woods. When she said that, I felt a sense of ‘that’s what’s missing’ and a tingle of excitement that another story is out there waiting.

It makes me realize that the forest and mountains are where the stories are that really sink into my soul. That’s where the magic and mystery and myths are. That was brought home to me even more yesterday when I met with two friends to talk about an old abandoned homestead out in the woods. I immediately felt that pull – who were its people? Where did they go? Why were they there? What was out there in the woods with them?

I’m not surprised by this because I’ve always preferred the settings of woods and mountains. It’s just been brought home even more now.

So, this one set between sea and land will be my transition as I slowly figure out how to move forward. It’s almost like being a brand-new writer again – learning the process of what works and what doesn’t. What to hang on to and what to let go of.

And how to turn toward all those new stories waiting out there in the trees.

‘This Deep Panic’ Book Trailer

I think a few of my friends were skeptical when I said I wanted to make a book trailer. I’d seen several on media sites and some were fantastic – like movie trailers – and some were not so great. I was lucky enough to know a fantastic cinematographer who was willing to take on the project. Because I couldn’t afford licenses for music, Sam went to friends of his, who created the soundtrack.

If you’re not familiar with Sam Nuttman, take a look at his website. http://samvisuals.com

We spent a lot of time getting ready, which was a learning experience for me. Sam read the book and pulled out the scenes he thought would translate to a short video. He then created storyboards and he worked on dialog and timing, since obviously a video that is less than two minutes can’t show a whole novel.

Kaiti Hylands created character sketches for our storyboards. https://www.artstation.com/kaitikat

I put out a ‘casting call’ for friends, asking them to come out in the rain for two days, for no pay, and just to hang out and have fun. And believe it or not, they did! An added challenge was making sure everyone stayed in their ‘pods’, kept their social distancing in place, and wore masks.

I couldn’t figure out antlers for the windigo monster, played by the only one with acting experience, Jim Burgess. But my friend Sabrina jumped in, finding antlers and showing up with a box of bones, ace bandaging, bags, rope, and moss. Jim showed up more prepared than I was, with costuming and props.

We shot scenes with the Windigo along a popular hiking trail. There were hikers that passed on the trail during the time that Jim and his antlers moved through the trees. I wish I could have known what they were thinking as they picked up their pace.

We need to applaud Beth, the sister of my friend Karen, who came to be in the video and got more than she expected. Sabrina and Karen had way too much fun using fake body parts. Beth had to lie on pavement in the rain for the shots. At one point, Sam yelled ‘cut!’ and those in the scene all wandered away. But Beth didn’t hear, so she kept lying there in the rain, perfectly still, true to her role. Next to her, Sam had the camera rolling for the next shots. Eventually he glanced down and saw her, asked if she was comfortable, and let her know she could get up. I have to admit, there was a lot of laughing. I’m glad her scenes ended up in the final cut. She deserved it.

The crew did an awesome job with makeup, not only creating injuries, but taking my friend Gloria Two-Feathers, who is a children’s author, and transforming her into the Stone Woman.

We shot scenes at night in the parking lot near the Index Town Wall where rock climbers go. We’d hoped to show a part from the book where a piece of scalp is on the hood of a car. So my husband took a hunk of chicken, rubbed in dog hair I collected from our floor, and topped that off with fake blood. After filming, instead of bagging it up to take home and throw away, he tossed it into the woods, thinking it would be raccoon food. Unfortunately, it was pitch black out there. He ended up tossing it so that it hung up on a branch at the edge of the climber’s trail, much to the consternation of climbers who later saw it. That scene didn’t make the final cut because the chicken just kind of went ‘splat’ on the windshield.

Angela and her wonder-dog Bailey, normally work ski patrol, with Bailey excelling at avalanche rescue. Angela had to run and fall at the right spot so that she landed in front of a severed leg (fake of course). Bailey loved this new game, running along with Angela. Sam was on the ground, camera in hand, and Bailey would get in front of him so her bottom was in his face, tail going madly. At one point she thought the leg was much better than a stick to shake and run around with. We wondered then if we could do some sort of blooper reel.

Having never been involved in something like this, I thought people would show up, say their lines, and go home. I didn’t realize that they would have to say their lines multiple times. That some would have to fall to the wet forest floor over and over, landing just right on their mark. That some would have to drive an old truck many times through shallow flooding conveniently provided by local beavers. All these friends ended up out there in the rain for two full days.

I started this wanting something to look forward to and something that would be a fun day with friends in a community I love. And that’s exactly what it was.

I now have a professional book trailer that I’m almost afraid is better than the book (being my own worst critic).

But more importantly, in this horrible year of 2020 with so many sad things surrounding us, there are two days that will be gems in my memory, filled with laughter and rain and woods and mountains and most importantly, friends.

So, if, after reading all this, you’d like to see the end result, here you go. https://vimeo.com/479128404