Editors matter

Yes, lots of people joke about how they are bad at names, or remembering them. This isn’t that.

It’s not that names don’t stick – some do, some don’t. I can remember people’s names for real life people. I struggle with written names and I know this is a problem (especially in my non-fiction work), that I haven’t found a solution yet (suggestions are welcome!), and I’m humble enough to admit when I make a mess of it.

For my fiction writing, I’ve figured out a lot of work-arounds. I have a massive spreadsheet with every character I’ve ever written in it and I consult in regularly. I still managed to have an Ella (Out Of Her League) and an Elle (Show Off). I once accidentally named a character after a close relative’s child and didn’t notice until my sister pointed it out.

In my non-fiction writing, this can be a problem if I’m writing a news article where two people have similar first or last names, they seem to merge in my head and come out onto the page in random order. I know I do this, and yet I can’t see that I have done it, but I can tell my editors to keep watch for it. My non-fiction editors are brilliant and very much needed to prevent embarrasing errors.

In one memorable first draft, I managed to change the main character’s name from Ben to Levi half-way through (thankfully I have brilliant editors), but when I did a find and replace from Ben to Levi, I discovered that there are many many words which exist that have the letters ben in the middle of them! Oops. Luckily I could go back to a previous version and try another method to resolve it so it was less work for the editorial team.

Since then, I’ve started putting (name) for side characters in my first drafts – the brackets make it easier to search/replace – and putting the names of the main characters at the top of every chapter.

Work-arounds only get me so far, and when I say that I ADORE being edited, what I really mean is that I NEED to be edited. Editors are wonderful. Being edited stops errors, and improves a book every single time.

Sometimes there are things about how a brain works (or doesn’t) and there’s no fix/cure. This isn’t something I can train myself not to do (I’ve tried many different methods). But there is awareness and there are work-arounds and there are editors.

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