Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Editing is Improving

I am currently attempting to write my first fantasy novel, a 100,000 word epic about an ordinary young man who discovers that he has been bred for a special purpose. I'm about halfway through at the moment, and recently sent the manuscript to some friends for their comments on how it could be improved.

Two of them came back and told me that several scenes from the beginning needed to be cut. These were scenes I was particularly proud of, and I resisted for as long as I could. Then a third person told me, very bluntly, that they were slowing down the action, and I realised I had to do some editing. With a heavy heart I hacked about five-thousand precious words off the beginning of my magnum opus. It hurt, I can tell you. But now that I re-read it I can see that the new, streamlined version is far, far better, and I'm excited about it again.

Editing is difficult, but it is necessary. However much you've sweated and laboured over something, once in a while you just have to metaphorically (or possibly literally) scrunch up the paper and hurl it towards the waste paper bin. I've commented here before that I believe editors are vital in the production of a good novel. An fresh pair of expert eyes can highlight problems you've overlooked, from poor punctuation to major continuity errors. They will take parts out, they will suggest other parts be expanded, but they will improve it.

I have a novel due for publication over the next few months, and my publishers suggested that it was "clean" and didn't need editing. Nervous about this decision, I paid to have it privately professionally edited, and I'm glad I did. As "clean" as that manuscript may have been, the editor picked up on many improvements which could be made.

One thing I have learned about the writing business is that you can't get precious about your work. Editors, publishers, test readers and others will want to change it. But they know what they are doing, and we would be wise to follow their advice. If you doubt me, just look at the number of writers who thank their wonderful and wise editors in the acknowledgements of their books.


Nancy Campbell Allen said...

So true, Anna. It's painful to cut and slash, but editing makes such a difference in the final product. It's good to have people who can be kind and constructive.

Good luck with your project! I'll be excited to read it.

Stephanie Black said...

Well said, Anna. Every book benefits from editing, and I can't imagine a book that needs no editing at all. You were very wise to pay for a professional edit when your publisher didn't want to do it.

Jennie said...

Unfortunately many people confuse editing with copy editing. They seem to think that all is needed is to correct the spelling, grammar, and typos. Not so. Good editors see where greater emphasis is needed, what is repetitious, where a scene can be strengthened, what is unnecessary, and overall make a good story better. I've worked as an editor and though I try hard to polish my work before submission, I like other writers, need the help of a good editor (fortunately I've had several excellent ones)to see what I've become blind to in my own work.