[Currently, I’m editing Diamonds in the Cave, the next novel in my War on Boris series. This article, though first posted five years ago, is a pertinent reminder of all that the editing process involves.]
Editing—No Writer is an Island
Some time ago, a member of our writers’ group published a book.
‘I don’t want to tell anyone,’ they said, ‘because I needed a lot of help.’
Certain members of the writers’ group ensured they revealed and celebrated the news; their achievement was our achievement. A book doesn’t happen in isolation; it’s a group effort. Just as a village raises a child, for the best outcome, a community or group births a book. There’s the writer with the ideas, then comes the editor, test-readers, friends and family, the proof-reader and finally, the audience, the readers out there in reader-world.
We write stories for readers, that’s why the editing process is vital. A story needs to be readable to be effective. Readers need to understand the story to enjoy it. It’s the reason language, especially written language has rules for grammar, spelling, and the art of storytelling has a structure.
So, you’ve finished your masterpiece, but now the challenge: how will you go about editing your work? That’s where the writers’ group comes in. Fellow writers are your work’s first point of contact. Their reaction to your story will tell you if your creation is a winner or a flop. Either way, there will be more work required to perfect your piece of genius—more pen to paper, more fingers tapping on the keyboard, more pain and hair-pulling before your work can be “birthed”.
Once you have completed your work, file it away in a drawer for about three months. You need distance between you and your “baby”. When you revisit your work, you may be amazed at how brilliant you have been putting all those words together in such a clever way, or be horrified at how the gremlins of grammar, spelling, typos, weasel words, repetitions, and so on have bred and multiplied. With fresh eyes, you’ll see ways to improve your story, thus creating your second draft.
Repeat the process of draft and distance until you feel it’s ready to meet fresh eyes that don’t belong to you. But who?
Ever had trouble getting someone to peruse your work? Suddenly, they’re all busy. Or they take your story and sit on it for months, years… Again, happy are those in a writers’ group. Or be bold and blog. If you are wanting to sell your novel down the track, having a http://www.presence and band of followers may help.
For those finishing-touches to refining your work, you may seek out a professional editor. When paying an editor, ensure that you define the time and rates in a contract. For Trekking With the T-Team, I negotiated an hourly rate and a limit on the number of hours the editor would work on my book.
There are two types of editing: big picture and proof-reading. Big picture editing looks at the plot, pace, character development, language use and content. Proof-reading deals with the technical side of the work such as grammar, spelling, and formatting. But as my friend who’s an editor said, ‘It’s hard to separate the two. If the content and ideas trigger you, then it’s difficult to be objective and it affects how you respond to the piece.’
So, while it may be preferable for an editor to be outside the genre in which you are writing, it may not work for your book. A good editor, of course, is impartial, but they are still human and will approach your story from their worldview. And on the other side, we as writers are human and see the world through a filter of attitudes and the way we see ourselves. A good editor who is paid, then, is only as good as the receptiveness to feedback of the writer who pays them. After all, you are paying for that objective set of eyes, and feedback based on their experience as a reader and what they perceive as good literature or entertainment. In the end, whatever comments an editor makes, it’s up to you, the writer, to implement those changes—it’s your work, your story.
The last step of editing is proof-reading; the nit-picking of the piece before it surfaces for publication. Ernest Hemmingway, in an interview for The Paris Review (1958), said that he rewrote the end of Farewell to Arms 39 times before he was satisfied with it. However, each writer is different. I use five different coloured pencils: 1) grammar, 2) spelling, 3) word-use, 4) formatting, and 5) content. That being said, I am sure I have perused my works near 39 times by the time it reaches the Amazon shelves.
• Reading out aloud helps with sentence structure, flow, and the art of storytelling. Even better, if you can bear it, use a voice-recorder as you read out your story, and then play it back.
• Line by line editing. Print out your story and then use a ruler under each sentence to concentrate on each word. Effective for exposing typos and formatting flaws.
• Start with the last chapter first, and so work through your piece backwards. Again, helps with plot-holes, character consistency and pacing.
• Have an English grammar book and a dictionary within reach, for you’ll be reaching for them repeatedly. I’ve discovered that an online dictionary, or Google are also reliable resources, but beware, as dodgy information slips through the cracks of the Internet.
In the end, it’s up to you, but it’s also a group effort. We are all part of the larger community collective of writers, readers, sharers and receivers of ideas. And I cannot stress enough, the more you read, the more effective your writing will become. We learn from each other.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017; 2022
Feature Photo: Le Mont St. Michel, France © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 1998