Notes from an Editor

The old adage ‘those who can’t write, edit’ stings somewhat, implying that editing is a fallback rather than a career in its own right, which is blatantly not the case. However, I am the first to admit that I am NOT a writer, but an editor. What gives me great delight is helping to shape authors’ work into the piece of writing that they want it to be, and which we believe it can be. I’d like to wish all you NaNoWriMo writers out there very good luck in this amazing endeavour you are part of – and would be utterly intrigued to read some of these 50,000 words that are being toiled over by writers all over the world right at this moment.

A new and unread manuscript landing on my desk, or, more likely, in my inbox,(though I’m going to go with the former here, for the sake of metaphor) is always a special thrill, a little like opening an extra-special present at Christmas. What will that first glimpse reveal? What surprises and treats are there to be found inside? What kind of shape will the content be in? (Here the metaphor becomes a little strained – although I suppose the present could have got squashed in the post.)

But then the nitty-gritty begins. The dismantling of the story, the sometimes ruthless-seeming cutting and deleting, the questioning of all kinds of story elements from big to small, the quiet but vital role of the copy-edit.

Working my way through a manuscript…

Often when making a start on a new manuscript, though, the same things leap out at me, and the same issues come up … so here are a few tips and ideas to mull over at that last stage of writing/the early stages of editing:

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff (yet): Don’t get too caught up in the early stages in ironing out tiny details at the expense of the larger, more fundamental elements to the story. There’s plenty of time for this fine-tuning later on. Don’t get too anxious about your grammar or spelling, either. If you can spell, that’s great, if not, don’t worry. Again, things to be looked at further down the line …

2.  Alpha and Omega: It’s worth making sure you’re really confident in both your beginning and your ending. These can be weak spots where too much is being introduced too quickly, or tied up too quickly.

3. Is that your final answer? Be prepared for a blitz of questions! The world you’ve created in your novel should be crystal clear to you, but might not necessarily be – yet – to the editor/reader. So, for example, some of that background info or research or ideas which are tucked away at the back of your brain may need to be added into the story. Conversely, sometimes too much of this has made its way in – and don’t be too disheartened if some of it just isn’t needed.

4. Do you need to call a friend? Don’t be afraid to query back on the questions or comments being fired at you. There’s no right or wrong, and it’s all a conversation to be had.

5. Rome wasn’t built in a day: Know that there will be several stages to this sometimes seemingly painful process of editing (this is from someone who is married to a writer). It doesn’t all need to be got right straight away.

If you’ve got any other thoughts about the writing and editing process, we’d love to hear them!

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One response to “Notes from an Editor

  1. I look upon editors as kindly aunties (it’s usually an auntie). They take you (metaphorically) to the funfair and show how wonderful it is. But you MUST listen to them at all times. Of course, the very best aunties never let go of your hand and steer you well clear of dangerous rides. And make sure you don’t fall off the ones they let you ride on. By making, you put on your safety belt and hold on tight they are happy. However! Sometimes even the sweetest auntie has to be stern and may have to tell you off! It’s certainly not nice being told off. And a great sulk from her wayward child can be the result. Still! It is for our own good and the sooner we understand Auntie Editor, the better this is for our upbringing.
    Recently I entered a children’s story into a competition. I didn’t win, but was long-listed. Out of the blue from the competition organisers I was offered a free critique from The Literary Consultancy. They must have spotted something. The critique was absolutely invaluable. And the knowledge I gained from it was priceless. The critique/edit was done in a wonderful sympathetic way. With the editor (an established author) Martyn Beardsly (Sir Gadabout), guiding me through my ms. It was as if enlightenment had happened in my writing life. I knew this was exactly what I needed at this stage in my writing journey. Deep down I craved constructive criticism. I can only feel deeply grateful to Martyn Beardsly and The Literary Consultancy.
    Professional guidance from an editor is a must. Sometimes it hurts but it is an essential process to growth. Mind you. You have to be at least part of the way there with your writing skills. And no editor can take on board any old tat.
    Writers are and always will be sensitive creatures and they need good people with them, especially editors.
    Stan Mills

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