Editing Memoir

You’d never know this from my blog, but it turns out that I am pretty professional when I’m working with clients. I write funny comments in the margin and then delete them. You think it’s hard to communicate over email? It’s ten times harder to communicate in little bubbles in track changes when the author might feel attacked, defensive, or insecure. And so I keep the personal comments (almost) entirely to myself or to this blog.

But for the first time, I’m helping a woman develop a memoir. Or rather, for the first time, I’m being paid to help someone work on her memoir. She is hesitant to write about herself, and yet she has a story that needs to be told. And so I encourage her to push herself to talk about how she feels when X happens or what her emotional response to Y was. (Readers of my own memoir, feel free to laugh at me because I’m a total fucking hypocrite.) But that’s the joy of editing or teaching, you are allowed to say “Do what I say, not what I do.”

But, because my client is writing about herself, I feel as if I know her. There is no hiding behind “the speaker” as one does when discussing a poem. I know her sense of humor. I know some of what is important to her. And I ask really intrusive questions such as “Why was this the point where that relationship fell apart?” or “Tell me more about how you felt about your mother’s death.” And so I feel as if I have to give a little back. I deleted a song lyric that I felt didn’t fit and wrote “despite a decades-long crush on Paul Simon, I don’t think this fits here.” She doesn’t care how I feel about Paul Simon, and yet I want to give something back.

How much do you share?


7 responses to “Editing Memoir

  1. When I beta, I’ll give as much as the writer is comfortable receiving.

    When I’m the writer, I want to hear personal reactions to my stuff, even if it isn’t entirely positive. At one point, a reader said (apologetically) that she couldn’t help associating the name of one of my characters with a sex toy. I took a look and could see her point!

    • What was the name??

      I figured it out. Copyeditors aren’t supposed to have a personality (thus this blog), they are just supposed to make the changes and do no harm. But editors are charged with getting the heart, spirit, and blood onto the page. And I’m an editor in this role. So, bleed away. Or something.

  2. I think knowing the writer helps enormously. It’s like children. What works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for another. As long as the child (or writer) believes in you and has faith that you want the best for them, there really are no rules. Editors, by their very nature, need to push back.

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