Goals and plans are good things. Usually. They can be important. They are ways to plot a course toward those things we strongly desire and chart our progress along the way. We teach them to our children from an early age. We use them in just about every aspect of our lives starting with developmental milestones as an infant up through planning for our own funerals.
But goals and plans are only beneficial when you know what direction you need, or want, to steer towards. If you don’t know what makes your soul sing how can you pursue it? How do people figure out what that special thing is for them? It can be through exposure; at home, at school, from a friend. More often than not though, I think it happens accidentally. You move through life, minding your own business, and something innocuous happens. At some point down the road you turn around and look back and realize that you have strayed pretty far from the path you were previously traveling. Maybe you can pin-point that moment. Maybe you can’t. It doesn’t matter. It happened and now you are in a completely different place and time. And you are happy.
For me that moment came about as the result of a tragedy. Tia L. Brink was an editor and a friend. She went into the hospital to have heart surgery and didn’t survive. I reached out to others that I knew she was friends with and we got through our grief together. One of those people was Keith Dugger. Tia had been more than just a friend to Keith. She had been his editor.
There is a 3-day writing challenge over the Labor Day weekend. It’s pretty simple; write a novel (or novella) over the 3-day weekend. Some folks do Na-No-Wri-Mo (National Novel Writing Month) in November where the goal is 50+ thousand words in 30 days. This is 20+ thousand words in 3 days. Um, yeah.
Last year Keith took the challenge, completed it, and even had time to spare. I got a message around 8 o’clock Labor Day night asking if I had the time to look over the story he had written. I said, “Sure”. I had never read anything Keith had written before but was game to give it a look. From the first paragraph I was hooked. I wasn’t concerned with individual sentences, or pacing, or organization–there wasn’t time and at that point, I didn’t have a clue about any of that. I was reading to catch spelling errors, typos, verb tense agreement, punctuation, and any other glaring mistake. Those are all things that have always driven me insane when I find them in published works.
I have read everything Keith has written since then, gone back and read most (all?) of his previous works, and nagged him to write more. Along the way, I have learned so much about why some things work and others don’t when it comes to telling stories. I have also had the honor to read a lot of words written by J. Daniel Sawyer and Paul E. Cooley. They are all wise and knowledgeable when it comes to the technicalities of grammar and punctuation and have been very patient in imparted that wisdom to me. You see, I know when something doesn’t “sound” right; what I don’t always know is why. Or, if I can tell you how to fix it, I can’t always use the correct terminology. I’m still not sure I would know a participle if it was dangling in my face. Have one in your writing though, and I will probably point it out.
They have taught me so much more than the technicalities of good grammar and proper punctuation. They have taught me about a writer’s voice, about methodologies of writing, about obeying the rules and breaking them too. They have taught me about friendship, trust, patience, practice, and faith.
When I gave that first story of Keith’s a read I had no idea that I was an editor. I was just helping a friend. I still didn’t know when I started pointing out little things to Dan or Paul as well. Suddenly, one day it hit me that I was doing quite a bit more of this, I LOVED it, and maybe (just maybe) I could do this for profit as well as pleasure. I wasn’t even sure what, exactly, an editor was supposed to do. Was I really already doing these things? Or was I just skimming the surface, pretending? Long conversations about the various natures of editors followed. They all in their own ways nudged me foreward. They told me to believe in myself. And I listened.
So, now I am an editor-for-hire. I am a semi-pro and as such, charge rates that are commensurate with that experience. I understand writers saying that they don’t need an editor. I certainly understand when a writer says they can’t afford an editor. A full time all-star level editor is going to charge you upwards of $40/hr to work for you, provided you can even get in to see them. As a rookie, I want to give writers the chance to try using an editor for a minimal expense and with no risk at all. I charge $15/hr and will do the first 25% of a work (up to 1000 words) as a free trial and will advise you how long it took and what it would cost. If you like my work, I will finish the work and bill you for the balance of my time. The free part is still free. If you aren’t happy with my suggestions, and don’t wish to continue, that is fine and you are under no obligation to do so.
Now that I have found this thing that I love to do, I am setting goals and making plans (things like self promotion, marketing, building a roster of clients). Were it not for the simple request of a friend and the accidental discovery that editing speaks to my soul, I would never have found this wonderful path upon which I now dance.
Have you found yours?