A Side to Developmental Editing Writers May Not Know: Thinking About Your Story Subconsciously

By Stacy Melanie Jerger (@ApoideaEdits)

When I wrote a blog post on the subconscious mind and how it’s a valuable tool for writers, I also mentioned that it’s a valuable tool for developmental book editors.

The subconscious mind is a part of our brain that’s working away for us, even if we’re not sitting at a desk writing. It’s background noise where things get worked out, questions get answered, problems get solved, and our writing becomes richer once we acknowledge that part of our mind.

I love my subconscious. I try to hug it as much as possible in this busy loud world.

But what the heck does this have to do with developmental editing?

Well, as a developmental editor, I submerge myself in authors’ stories. And while I’m in those stories, I’m thinking about them a lot—whether I’m directly editing them or doing something else. Those stories are still moving around in my mind. It’s unlike any normal reading experience.

A reader’s engagement is like getting rained on outside. Your clothes get wet, you feel the chill, but under all those layers, your skin is dry. (Maybe not your socks, but go with it.)

A developmental editor’s engagement is like jumping in a body of water. Every inch of you is soaked. And that’s what immersing myself in a story is like.

I go beyond engaging as a reader and get heavily invested in the content and characters. And because of this investment, I can support the author’s vision completely without overstepping him or her.

But this level of investment is also why developmental editors cost more. We really care about the intricacies of stories and authors’ successes. Many authors won’t find this level of investment and editorial skill anywhere else.

So, even after I’ve soaked up a story (reading, editing, taking notes, forming thoughts), I sit on all of it for a few days.

Why, you might ask, would an editor sit on her completed work for days instead of sharing with the author immediately?

I’m putting my head to the “wall” and listening to my subconscious. Part of what I do is generating ideas and solving story problems, and sometimes I need to mull over an idea and make sure it’s a good fit for the story and the author’s vision.

If you’re a writer, then you understand the need to sleep on an idea or plot problem.

I let the dust settle after editing, let the subconscious drink in new thoughts, let my eyes “adjust” to the revised manuscript.

More ideas could occur to me later and I’ll email the author again. My subconscious is still at work and likes to linger throughout the entire revision process.

Fresh ideas, new ways to look at a scene, and an open mind to story development makes for a rewarding editing experience for both myself and the author.

And I have my subconscious to thank!