On… editing

If a word in the dictionary were misspelled, how would we know? ~ Steven Wright

I broke my No-New-Year’s-Resolutions rule this year and committed to writing something every day. Even, however, with the caveat that the ‘something’ could be anything – a title, an outline or a full-blown novella – it’s been a struggle. Most days I’ve managed, aided to a degree by prompts from the likes of the Scottish Book Trust and the odd wee competition*.  Some days I’ve exceeded my own expectations. Other days… I just couldn’t muster the muse.

Fortunately I have one or two rather nice bits of editing work on the go currently… Even more fortunately there is – as far as I am aware – no such thing as Editors’ Block.

There are a number of other advantages of editing over writing: I find it fascinating to read other people’s work before it’s gone through a formal edit. Personally I worry that there are too many writing ‘rules’ being followed currently, not necessarily by the writer but by editors (or possibly by the writer embedded in editor-mode). I’m delighted whenever I find a published book that has a fresh natural feel to it, and the fiction I read as an editor often still has that quality. Editors should have their own version of the Hippocratic Oath – “First, do no heavy-handed editing just to adhere slavishly to rules”.

The complete lack of ***waiting*** is another massive advantage of being an editor over a writer. Whilst I hope my feedback is helpful, I don’t gnaw my nails or lose sleep waiting for my work to be appreciated. (Though it’s always nice!) Waiting to hear back about submissions is the main cause of my writers’ block (it’s more of a writers’ coma). My brain is rendered incapable of creativity at these times (beyond dreaming up bizarre misfortunes for they-who-inflict-waiting) so getting stuck into some editing is just the thing.

Similarly, although I invest a lot of thought and effort into editing, at the end of the day it’s not my baby, baby. When I edit, my aim is to be invisible, to remove unwanted distractions and allow the writer’s best work to show. My edits have, on the whole, met with a positive response from clients. On the occasions my comments have been queried, it hasn’t felt as personal as having my writing critiqued. I trust my judgement when I edit, for the very reason that it is not personal.

A further bonus to being the editor on the outside of the inside-every-editor-is-a-writer-struggling-to-get-out is that it’s a great way to finesse my own writing style. Critically assessing other people’s writing helps pinpoint problem areas in my own writing, without having my own work in front of me (when I would be blind to the problems). There’s a good reason that the received wisdom is, writers shouldn’t be their own editors.

***

* Storm

(A short piece of silliness I submitted to Kobo’s 100 word story competition)

Hordes of murky clouds throng the sky. Darkness is fleetingly, silently, splintered as ghoulish fingers stab repeatedly into the nightscape, followed by soft, menacing growls. Suddenly, scrambling fingernails cover the roof; seeking a way in between the slates. A thousand rage-filled fingertips are at the windows, rapping insistently for admittance. The wind batters furiously against strong-bolted doors and wails its frustration.

Deep within the angry, darkened building an infant whimpers.

The mother stirs and, leaving her warm imprint and sleeping lover behind, tiptoes to her child’s side.

“Hush, wee darling, don’t be afraid,” she whispers. “Sshhh… it’s just a metaphor.”

3 thoughts on “On… editing

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