A sci-fi plebe gets initiated

I should have known when I learned that a friend of mine named her blog after a Philip K. Dick novel that she was into science fiction (or should I say speculative fiction? help!), but I really didn’t think about it.

Only several years later (which was already several years after I’d met her) did the topic of sci-fi come up in earnest between us. We were in a rental car on our way to a wedding and she said, apropos of not much, “Have you ever edited a book?”

I said not exactly, but mentioned a few things that kinda-sorta came close. Why was she curious?

“Well, I wrote a sort of sci-fi novel maybe 10 or 15 years ago,” she said, “and it’s basically been sitting in a drawer since then. Recently, I’ve been feeling like I’m ready to do something with it, but I think it could use a second pair of eyes. I’m not sure exactly what an editor would do, besides be a genius and fix all my mistakes… But let me know if you want to talk about it.”

I was SUPER intrigued. For one, my friend wrote a secret book!! For two, it was a sci-fi book—especially weird!! For three, I love me the prospect of a crazy new project.

I’ve found that one of the best things about my first year-and-change of full-time freelancing has been the ability (or heck, sometimes the necessity) to take on a wide variety of editorial gigs. As I heard the author John Vaillant recently say, “I am a professional generalist.” Aside from the thrill of solidarity it gave me to hear a big-name writer identify himself that way—I’ve always been a mega-generalist and sometimes struggled with my lack of speciality, but he’s proof you can have an awesome career as a jack of many interests—his quip also perfectly described one of my favorite job perks: variety.

I told my friend that, although I: a) am not a fiction writer, b) am not even a huge fiction reader, and c) have never, to my recollection, read a sci-fi novel*, I was confident that I could at least do a decent job of copyediting her book, and that if I found I had any developmental suggestions for her in the course of doing so, I’d pass them on. She agreed to hire me, and off I went.


Dune! Power! Kyle MacLachlan!! (courtesy Flickr user KAZ Vorpal)

I’ve been combing through her formidable 480-page book since the middle of last month, with the goal of finishing by year’s end, and I’m having a blast with it, for many reasons. To name a few:

  • The change of pace is invigorating (see the jollies of the generalist, above). I love what I normally do, which is writing and editing external communications for nonprofits. It’s interesting, it has clear goals, and it’s for a good cause. But fiction! I can crank up the artfulness and shelf for a time the thoughts that the text I’m working on will need to be fact-checked, or instigate a call to action, or fit in a 500-word box. Our only goals here (though they are heady ones) are to tell an engaging story in the most appealing way we can. Hooray for that creative focus and freedom.
  • I’m getting to know my friend better through reading her impressive writing, which is lovely. And I’m probably enjoying reading the story more myself since I know who wrote it. Double win! Oh, and I’m gaining a better understanding of why people like sci-fi. Triple win!
  • As the weather cools, this is the perfect long-form project to curl up on the couch with: blanket over my knees, cup of coffee on the end table, laptop just where it was designed to be. Another nice change of pace: there’s nothing frenetic about this task.

So this post is part shout-out to my talented and industrious friend for believing I might be of some help to her labor of love, part written revelation about the wonderfulness of changing things up at work, and part teaser—’cause this book should be out on Kindle next year and I’ll be engaging in even more shameless self-promotion then!

*   *   *

Hey other freelancers: Do you like the way variety shapes your professional life? (Or maybe you hate it?) Penny for your thoughts in the comments.

*Unless you count a college boyfriend trying to read all of Frank Herbert’s Dune to me in installments. I tried hard to keep up with it, but usually fell asleep before he finished.

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