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The Importance of the Edit by Joel Canfield

I’m a lucky man.

First of all, if you read my previous blog post, you know that my new novel DARK SKY, just released about two weeks ago, was an insane rush to get what was in my head on paper. I had the idea on May 24th and the book was up on Amazon August 14th. Finishing a 300+ page book in less than three months doesn’t happen very often – but I’m not bragging, I was literally downloading this book into my head from…well, somewhere, it all depends on your individual belief system.

So that’s the first big reason I’m lucky.

The second and just as important reason is that I happen to work directly next to a wonderful editor and writing coach – my wife, Lisa Canfield. Because I did barrel through this book so quickly, I needed an objective eye to tell me what worked and what didn’t. My wife has very, very high standards, despite the fact that she married me, and she quickly identified the areas which needed work, including one whole chapter that was (a) crucial and (b) a trainwreck (and not a funny one involving Amy Schumer). My wife does not tolerate stupidity in any form, as she informed me outside the airport in Rome about 25 years ago (another story), so she let me know what was wrong with the book – while also, thankfully, telling me all that was right (writers have performance anxiety too, you know). Anyway, with her guidance, I rewrote the whole problematic chapter and actually ended up splitting it into two. She also rewrote my prose as necessary, to make the book flow smoother, punch up certain sections, fix typos and, in general, do everything a fabulous editor should do.

So what’s my point, other than I can never divorce her because who would fix my books?

My point is all writers need an editor. A writer can’t help but have some blind spots in terms of how what’s in their head is actually coming out on the page. Even the most subjective writing piece needs an objective eye to make sure the author is being as clear as possible and is delivering what he or she intends to deliver in as powerful way as possible. The first part of that task is pretty simple – it’s just about making sure language makes sense, grammar is good and you’re not omitting crucial information. But the second part – the part about intent – requires an editor who truly understands the storytelling complexities of the writing process and what the author is attempting to communicate with his or her audience. Well, my wife gets all that and more, since she is an amazing writer in her own right.

When it’s just about the first part – the part about making sure your grammar is correct – it can make for a very bad outcome, especially in the kind of writing we do. For example, when I finished ghosting a biography for a good ol’ country boy, I didn’t hear back for a while. What I didn’t know is he had given the manuscript to his old middle school English teacher to look over. Now this is a book I had written in his voice, something a ghostwriter absolutely needs to do so a book reads like the client actually wrote it – but she objected to that approach. For example, I had written, “The day before, he had taken me turkey hunting for the first time and dang if I didn’t bag a bird.” Her response to that sentence was, “This wording here is pretty informal and brings down the voice.  It should be reworded into something more formal.”  You don’t know my client, but believe me, this would have been like telling Johnny Cash not to sing about prisons because they’re unpleasant.

The fact is it takes more than a little book learnin’ and some fancy big city college degrees to edit a book. It takes marrying the right woman. If you’re not ready to make that big a commitment, you can also just hire her.… But believe me, my arrangement is a lot cheaper.

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How I Accidentally Wrote a Novel

DARK SKY 1 (1)

Joel Canfield here.

So, it was a sunny Sunday, May 24th of this year, and my lovely wife Lisa and I were having lunch here on Roosevelt Island with a couple of writer pals, David Muhlfelder and Robert Thielke.  All four of us had ordered burgers and, as we wolfed them down, some other guy showed up at out table, a guy I didn’t know, and he immediately lambasted our diets. Which was fair.

Anyway, I found out his name was Joshua James and he lived over the river from us in Queens – Robert had invited him over to meet up with us. I also found out that Josh was a talented playwright, screenwriter – and, as it happens, novelist (he writes thrillers under a pseudonym, but check out his published plays by clicking here).  Even though a film of one of his scripts had just been released, he was the most excited about self-publishing his books. He told us excitedly that was where the future was at – and how he was racking up some great sales, as well as getting hundreds of amazing reviews. And if you guessed that his spiel set me on fire…

…well, you’d be wrong.

Lisa was the one hanging on his every word who suddenly wanted to get into the self-publishing game – I was the one in the corner rolling my eyes. I had no intention of writing a novel. A novel takes a lot of time and a lot of energy, and at this point in my life, I don’t have a lot of either to spare. Not only that, but I never got anywhere with the ones I did finish, back when I was in my twenties and thirties. The closest I got to getting published was to finally have a book agent read my stuff, love it and promise to get it in print. He died of a heart attack on a tennis court a couple of weeks later. Okay, it was a bigger tragedy for him than me, but still…

But then I fell asleep and everything changed.

Not during the lunch – that would have been rude. But after Lisa and I got home, I took a quick nap (our dog gets us up way too early) and suddenly the whole first chapter of a new book came to me while I slept, as well as the main character and the basic plot. I woke up on fire – and Lisa was looking at me as though I was nuts, which isn’t that unusual, I’ll grant you.

That week, I started writing DARK SKY and, two and a half months later, it was done. And sleep continued to be my biggest writing helper. I kept waking up in the middle of the night with the idea for the next chapter and then lay there in bed for a couple of hours working out the mechanics. But it was worth the ongoing exhaustion.

When I was done, Lisa went through the manuscript and helped me make some significant improvements, and then my talented son A.J. did the book cover design. In this house, everything’s a family affair.

The result was DARK SKY.  I’m excited about this book and I hope everyone reading this will give it a read. I’d love to write a whole series of these books with the same main character and I already have a plot for the next one. But people have to like this one first before I get crazy involved with another one.

That’s why, for now, I’m sleeping on it.

Anyway, DARK SKY is NOW on sale on Amazon in paperback and Kindle ebook editions…check it out here if you want.