Essa Vida and Editing Class

by Addie Boswell
Published on: April 24, 2013
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clipart**This post contributed by guest blogger Tina Morgan, a student in PSU’s Graduate Publishing Program

I had edited exactly nothing of note until our entire editing class at Portland State read Addie Boswell’s YA manuscript, Essa Vida. For weeks we used Addie’s manuscript as a classroom text, culminating with the writing of individual developmental letters. It was an immersive and illuminating experience for us, and (I hope!) a useful one for Addie.

Our editing class didn’t focus exclusively on developmental editing. “Editing” contains multitudes, and we explored a little of everything: copyediting, editing marks and digital markup, acquisitions, rights and permissions, fact-checking. Our final assignment and long-term project for the class, however, was an exercise in what I think of as “real” editing: a big, broad, developmental edit of a fully-realized work.

We received Addie’s novel in increments. We saw her query letter and plot summary. We copyedited the first chapter, then the first three chapters. When we got the entire book, our assignment was to read it, discuss it in groups, and write a developmental letter to Addie. Our group had a rollicking, wide-ranging discussion of the book at a local bar. We talked about what we liked and what confused us, what was strong and what we thought could be stronger. We took copious notes. I can’t imagine that this is typical part of the process on the editorial side, but it was really valuable for us. It was a lot like the workshop process in a writing class or writers’ group: it made us aware of the strengths of our individual perspectives and equally aware of our blind spots. Some things that bothered me in the manuscript didn’t bother the rest of the group, and vice-versa. This didn’t always change my mind, but it was instructive. I think that as a rookie editor, you like to think of yourself as a representative for the reader, but often you are simply representing yourself, a reader. You notice the things that always bother you, and you love the things you always love. I imagine that as you become more seasoned, your perspective evolves and broadens, but since everyone involved was a first-time editor, having us meet as a group to discuss the book was a helpful exercise in discovering our own editing quirks and prejudices.

We had some guidelines about writing the developmental letter, but they boiled down to this: Be constructive, be specific, and don’t be mean (useful advice for approaching just about anything.) To this I would add: Begin with a sincere appreciation for the tremendous effort it takes to complete a novel. Picture how long it takes you to produce a few cogent sentences for the inside of a thank-you card and multiply it a thousand times. When you have stopped hyperventilating, begin.

I was impressed by how serious Addie was about her manuscript. Allowing a classroom full of students to read your work with the express purpose of critiquing it is the kind of nightmare I wake from in the dead of night, so I respected her willingness to take novice opinions seriously. It was also extremely generous of her, as she could have no guarantees about the quality of said critiques.

I enjoyed the process: the first reading, the group discussion, composing my individual analysis. Most satisfying was the final meeting with Addie, where the entire class discussed the manuscript and our developmental letters. We learned about her process and experience, and she was able to engage us individually and as a group about the issues that we mentioned in our letters. I think ultimately that’s what the process offered for Addie. Our developmental letters focused on different things, but by studying the places where they intersected, she was able to determine some of the “universal” strengths and weaknesses in the manuscript.

It was a great experience to edit collaboratively, during our group meetings and ultimately with Addie. In that final discussion, I asked Addie if she knew how she was going to tackle a particular issue with a character, and she said that she wasn’t sure yet. “Do you guys have any ideas?” she asked us, and the entire class was silent. I can’t speak for the group, but I had nothing. In the end, the writer does the heavy lifting. Thank goodness, I thought in that moment, I’m only an editor.


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