A Day in the Life of an Editor (with RJ Blain)

Hey everyone, and welcome to my first guest post ever! RJ Blain is a fellow indie writer and freelance editor who I’ve met through Google+, and I’m having her on to have a little discussion about what her editing life is like. I hope you find the info useful to you as a writer, publisher, editor or whatever it is you do in the independent world of putting words in the eyeholes of other people.

The alarm starts chiming at me at 8:35 am, its noise reminiscent of an antique phone. I’m already awake,playing with my iphone working. The husband’s snoring away next to me. I am more than happy to steal all of his warmth. Hah, payback for those times he kicks me at night.

Solitaire might’ve been a better choice to force my brain to start waking up, but I made the mistake of checking my email. There’s a new client to schedule in, and my personal email box is looking a bit like a war zone.

Cue the start of another glamorous day as an editor.

There is something nice about being an editor and a novelist. Every day is different. Well, sort of. I get up around the same time every day. I go through a bit of a routine as I get out of bed and get my husband shuffled off to work.

Then all hell breaks loose.

Some days, I don’t even know where to begin. A mountain of work looms over me, mostly in the form of 75,000 word+ manuscripts, all needing tender, loving care edited. Some of the manuscripts are even mine. My house is falling into a state of clutter and disrepair, so I need to try to hold those terrors at bay, too.

That leaves me with one choice: Make a To-Do List or nothing is going to get done. Some people think they’re a waste of time, but I have one flaw fatale. Without my To-Do List, I’m prone to forgetting things. It takes me 10 or so minutes to sit down and make my list. My brain is trained to remember everything I need to do in a day when I’m setting up my list, so I don’t usually forget anything.

My brain, however, hasn’t learned how to accept there are only so many hours in the day. Oh well. Win some lose some, I guess.

My name is RJ Blain. Editor and writer by day, backstabbing rogue (in EQ) by night.

A girl has to get out some pent-up frustrations somehow.

I could have saved a lot of time by just writing ‘I stare at words all day long’ but that doesn’t really help show what an editor does, does it? I’ll start with what I do. I’m a developmental editor. Character development, plot arcs of all types, tension, pacing, and flow of a story all fall under my domain. I’m the last person you should go to if you want a pat on a head and told you’ve done good work.

My job is to make your novel better. Stronger. More appealing to your audience. More everything.

My job is to point out the strengths and weaknesses of a novel, and find ways to strengthen the weaknesses of the story without weakening the strengths. It’s not easy. I edit by reading through and commenting on things as I read. This lets me capture my initial reactions to a scene and offer my thoughts on what is stopping me from just enjoying the read. Above all, I’m a reader. I want to get lost in a story. I want to be transported to another world, another time, another place. Anything that helps me do this, or prevents me from doing this, gets mentioned.

I write. A lot. I sit there and I make a lot of notes. My notes may look a little like this…

(This excerpt was taken from a manuscript. Client has granted me permission to share bits.)


A lot of telling and exposition here. Going to reference by number for this, so bear with me and check the above paragraph for the reference.

1: this first sentence is the best of the lot, in my opinion. The character is taking an active stance, which is important. I like the basic imagery here – not too much, not too little, just enough to get a basic idea of what he looks like. Well done.

2:  you repeat the use of Matthew here when it isn’t necessary; there are no other characters yet mentioned. He would be fine, and you could streamline this sentence. There are also a lot of different ways you could word this sentence, too. Play with it. Put the focus on the sword. I would also cut the word arcane, because most people are going to assume some form of magic is at play when it starts to glow.

3: In a life or death situation like this, and after seeing someone he respected turn into an intellectual vegetable….

The complete comment is some 300 or 400 words longer. But, this essentially shows what I do, each and every day, for many hours each day. I read a work, and make lots and lots and lots of comments. These comments are my opinion, and my client is welcome to use my advice or discard it as needed.

Over the course of the day, I will write thousands upon thousands of words of notes for my various clients, sending them off whenever I reach a benchmark in the project. This is usually a chapter, but some clients want notes more or less frequently. I cater to the client. If they want their notes after every scene, I save the file, and send it to them. If they don’t want to hear from me until I come to a place where I really think they need to give me input, that’s how I operate.

What should happen is that I get down to my computer around 9 am, and start working on editorial. By 2 or 3 pm, I should be done with all of my client work, leaving me time to work on my novels. If I’m lucky, I remember to eat breakfast and lunch. Usually, I don’t remember either.

What really happens is this:

Husband is late getting out of bed. I make it to my computer at around 9:30. Sometimes 10. Finish the things in my email I couldn’t do from my phone. That sucks away half an hour. Get to work. Every 10 or 20 minutes, someone interrupts me. I spend 5 or 10 minutes dealing with that. Sometimes it is a client asking me a question via email or instant messenger. Sometimes it is my husband, asking for help with something. Sometimes it is a chore I just can’t put off.

Cue me pulling my hair. Why haven’t my locks turned gray yet? Why haven’t I gone bald yet? I keep checking the mirror, but there isn’t any noticeable alternations to my head’s status.

After about two or three hours of this, I throw my hands up in the air. I pick up one of my moleskines and draft something. I’ll do this for 20 minutes to purge out the worst of my anxiety over the interruptions.

Back to work.

This continues for a few hours, until I decide it’s time to shift gears and work on my stuff. I might draft, I might edit, but in any case, I try to spend at least 2 or 3 hours working on my own work, accepting the interruptions that come as they come.

Some days I reverse things, and I will work on my stuff first, leaving client editorial for the afternoon. Either way, I have a set amount of stuff I need to get done, and I knock them off the to-do list one by one until they’re finished. The order doesn’t matter so much as keeping myself productive and getting things done.

Most days, it even works. Most days, I finish a huge chunk of my to-do list. Most days, I’m playing catch up from the other days where there just aren’t enough hours for me to work with.

No matter how I approach my work, one thing doesn’t change: Slacking off isn’t an option, and the times I do spend doing things I shouldn’t be doing, I have to make up for at some point.

The only piece of advice I’ll give to a would-be editor is this: If you can’t be 100% focused and dedicated to your work, editing isn’t for you. (And writers, next time your editor gets a little cranky at you because you missed a deadline, remember this: Your editor was relying on you to get things done so they could make their puzzle-like life fit together.)

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