Q&A with Kim Ludlow, editor and founder of Ludlow Editorial.
What excites you about book editing?
I love finding the right language for an idea or feeling. I love organizing and reorganizing the puzzle pieces of a story to see how structure changes the experience. It starts with intention. In conversation, I listen for what people are trying to communicate; on the page, I look for clues to what drives the writer to tell her story. Recognizing these intentions honors the writer, and opens the door to understanding the life of the story. For me, the mystery of why we tell stories and the challenge of how we tell stories is a perfect marriage of the heart and mind.
What led you to provide this service for people?
Honestly, the fact that I love doing it is one thing. The fact that my peers consider me very good at it inspires me to offer it up as a service.
You are one of the most intuitive editors I’ve worked with. Tell me about how intuition plays out in your work with writers.
Much like what excites me about the process, when I read someone’s work I concentrate on what the writer is trying to say. I let my instincts respond first to the words, then to what I hear behind them. Whether I’m thinking about James Joyce, or a new writer’s first draft, the important question is “what is this writer trying to communicate?” Whether the piece achieves the writer’s goals at that moment or not, the question remains the same.
What are some of the most common pitfalls writers face?
I find that writers (experienced and not) often struggle with the same problems. Some of them are: losing the tension and structure of the story, have an unclear narrative point of view, undeveloped characters, pacing, and unnatural dialogue. It’s often a good idea to read your work out loud to yourself. It’s amazing what you can hear that you don’t recognize on the page.
Where do you find writers often get stuck in their work?
This is as varied as the writers who write. It’s often a question of story structure and what makes the story feel “alive.” It’s easy to get bogged down in something that doesn’t move the story along, or that the writer is attached to, but doesn’t belong.
How do you help a writer get unstuck?
I tend to dig into the sentences and paragraphs fairly deeply for content, and use examples in the text to show what is and isn’t working and why. Then I describe the larger context of the story and how those examples hinder or help the author’s intention.
What are some powerful questions you can give people who are considering writing a book or are already at work on one?
Have you ever read a story like the one you want to tell? How is your story different?
What is the most important event in the story? When does that event take place in the story’s timeline?
Know where your narrator is in time. Is she in the middle of the story (she knows some things, but not others). Is he at the end looking back? How far away from the events is he?
When is it time to hire someone to help you?
I think my skills are best applied to a working draft (short story, opening chapter, 1st draft of a script). I can always tell someone if I like their idea or not, but it’s once the idea starts to take shape that the constructive questions and discussions can begin.
Any other advice you can offer writers?
Read. Read. Read.
Know the genre you’re working in.
Know how things are usually done so that you can take advantage of the established form, or know why you do it differently. If you’ve never written a story before, look at some of the books on basic story structure and the tools of story-telling available to you. Then write. And write. And rewrite.
Thank you, Kim! Kim can be contacted at her website and to those of you looking for editing help, I strongly recommend her services.