Based on my radio interview on CakEhole last week with the wonderful Julie Mullen, I decided to write a blog post about editing. We discussed it on her show, as so often writers think it must be an awful process. The belief is: you’ve written it, so it must hurt to change it, right? Not at all. It’s about creating the best novel you can and a careful process and expert help is the best way to achieve it.
I really enjoy editing: I edit my work as soon as I start writing a novel, and during my writing, as I go through every chapter and check, revising and upgrading. I try to improve the novel as I go, and again after I’ve finished. There are even more improvements when an edit for the completed book comes back to me from the publisher. The later editing process can be a light task or sometimes I’m asked to look again at something more specific, like doing a little more work on a character. But editing is a mental exercise I absolutely love.
One of the questions I’m often asked by other writers in writing groups is about how authors react to being asked to edit their work. Some people seem to think that having an editor make suggestions for improvements is somehow a criticism or an invasion of the creative process, that an outsider is interfering with some precious finished piece of art. That’s not at all the case: writing 90,000 words of a novel means that it won’t come out perfect the first or second time of checking through and all writers want to make a story as good as they can for their readers.
Some writers use beta readers; they’ll ask trusted friends, family, or they’ll pay professionals to read their work and give them feedback. The first consideration is that the story, the characters, setting and the themes will work for a reader. Then the written style of the piece will need to be improved: all writers make mistakes. Repetition of words and phrases may occur, or important exposition details may be omitted and will need to be added in for clarity and the best effect. Then there are the sentences that don’t sound right: a better choice of word may make all the difference. That’s before we start on the typing errors and the flying commas.
Working towards deadlines can be stressful, and perhaps sometimes writers fear that their current book won’t be as exciting as their last, or that they’ll never be finished on time. But that’s what our editors are for – to keep us safe from getting things wrong.
Editors are great people: I work with editors who are really better than great, who mix positivity with honesty so that I’m alerted to how I can make my story the best it can be. After all, the most important thing for any writer is that readers enjoy the finished story and can relate to the characters.
The writer does all of the work to think up an idea, a theme, characters, then shapes and creates the novel. I’ve had edits where I’ve hardly had to change a thing. A clean edit is wonderful as there only remains basic work to do, but a story and a style can always be improved.
On occasions an editor might say ‘Have you considered…?’ Then there’s always a penny-dropping moment, the total realisation that two heads are better than one, a concern that has already been wriggling in the back of my mind comes to the front and it’s really clear that a small change is the big difference that will make a more satisfying outcome.
I love the mental challenge of editing: it can be quite emotional though, as a writer has to immerse herself fully in the whole novel and it’s always hard work, reading the same chapters over and over and upgrading until it’s right. But it’s a pleasure, not a chore. More than that, it’s a chance to learn. Writers pick up on their own regular mistakes and therefore will make them less frequently; they pick up on habits and rethink them. And as my mum used to say, practise makes perfect or, in my case, it makes progress. I love the idea that I get to know myself better as a writer through the editing process, and that I can become a bit better at what I love; I can become sharper.
An edit is to be embraced, not feared. It’s really very enjoyable and therapeutic, like spring cleaning the house but without all the boring cleaning. So, for all writers out there who are anxious about the editing process or think it may be onerous, please don’t worry. It’s our chance to shine brighter, to learn to hone our skills, and to work with gifted and experienced professionals whose one aim is to support our work, to enable the finished article to be even better. I believe editing is a blessing, not a bane, a lesson, not a chore.
Bring it on! It might even be fun.
6 thoughts on “On Writing: What the editing process is like for a writer?”
Fantastic article Judy! As a painter I found the hardest call to make after going back to work on a picture over time was judging when to stop. Adding to a picture is much more fun than facing that dreaded blank canvas for the first time! And there’s always that feeling that a bit more would make it even better. I also enjoy the process of painting more than the products, which are stacked in my studio sadly neglected.
Have you ever thought of compiling your writing blogs into a book? I’m sure it would be incredibly popular.
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I often see a parallel between writing and other art forms such as painting and theatre. Your studio sounds fantastic, a place of creativity. I always value your responses, Peter- always smart and thoughtful. The book is a great idea….
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Interesting article, thank you for writing and sharing it.
As a newbie writer, I am aware I now read books from an author’s point of view. I hear myself saying
” Wow, what a fantastic sentence, so much in seven words, how do they create that?”
“Ok, you told me that before, yes I know her favourite colour or what she has for breakfast every day, no need to repeat thanks”
Regarding editing, I experience it like peeling an onion, layers of removing stuff you see or hear, for the first time. Sometimes I reread my stuff and think “oh you are clever” and sometimes ” what on earth does that mean?”
For me the most tantalising part of writing for me is having no idea where my pencil will take me. 😊
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I love the onion parallel – that’s so true. And, yes, your last line is absolutely spot-on, Mandy – what a journey!
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Dear Mrs. Leigh,
Thank you very much for this very interesting post. It really is motivating and very useful. Have a nice weekend,
Maritta Van Casteren
Verstuurd vanaf mijn iPhone
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Thanks for reading the blog post and taking the time to reply. Sending warm wishes. Dank u. Heb een heerlijk weekend!