Tuesday, 1 July 2008

A Good Editor

Editing is a complex job which, when done well, enhances and improves a piece of writing in a subtle, unobtrusive way, helping it reveal itself more fully, and more truthfully.

In order to achieve this, an editor works with a writer to tease the text apart and then knit it back together in a new, improved way. The book must work as a coherent whole, and be free from errors of grammar, spelling, punctuation, facts, omission and context. All this must be achieved while maintaining the integrity of the book, and without compromising the writer’s own voice. It’s a difficult and highly skilled job, for which there is little formal training available, which demands a high level of talent, intuition, knowledge, discretion and tact.

So when I hear writers insist that their work does not need editing, and that they aren’t prepared to change a single word, I become more than a little irritated.


Annie Wicking said...

Hi Jane,
I have been working on my novel for about eight years. This may seem like a long time, but I did have to do a lot of learning. I still feel I could learn even more before I'm truely happy with my ability to write well. Even now I still go back and take other look at my book. I know there must be a cut off point where it needs a new eye to look at what I can't see where my novel can be improved. I'm forever will to learn and my fingers are cross as I wait to hear whether the publisher will say yes to my novel.

When I have a little more time I would like to email you.

best wishes,

P.s Yes the photographs on my blog are my own. I'm glad you like them

Jane Smith said...

Annie, there reaches a moment with all writing when it's time to stop work. Eight years? You might be there.

Few first novels are published. Most writers have a couple of novels hidden away under their beds. And writers usually get better with each book they write.

I'm not telling you to stop work on your first: just think about when you might feel ready to start the next one. It's worth considering. You've said that you've learned a lot by writing your first: the next one's almost certain to be better.

Do email me if you have a specific question. I'd be happy to hear from you. And try to get something done with those photos, as they really are lovely.

Anonymous said...

Hi HPRW - a local bookseller recently told me that Tim Winton never has an editor work on his books and she didn't think it did them any harm, but then that may be the exception to the rule....

Jane Smith said...

Hello, gondal-girl, and welcome to my blog.

If that's true about Tim Winton, just think how good his books could be if they WERE edited!

Joking apart, though, there are some writers who prefer for their books to be left alone. Some are successful writers who know what they're doing; some are naive writers who don't have a clue. In all the time I've been writing and editing, though, I've not seen a single manuscript that didn't benefit from an editor's help, no matter how little that help was.

(Strictly speaking, it's impossible for a book to be taken through the publishing process without an editor working on it, as it's the editor who drives that process. I understand I'm being pedantic here, and apologise for it, but that's what I do. I can't stop myself.)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jane -don't apologise - I think from the editing processes I have gone through ( not yet with an editor on a novel) but with plays/screenplay - the editor really draws out the marrow...

Geraldine Brook's People of the Book - was the other author suggested to me by the same boookseller that was editor immune due to being a Pulitzer prize winner....if that is the case, i wonder what the book would have been with editing ( as her other novels I really liked)

Jane Smith said...

Following gondal-girl's earlier post I emailed Tim Winton's UK agent, David Higham Associates, and asked if it were true that Winton didn't let editors change his work. I've just received the following reply:

"What you have seen is untrue. Tim Winton is far too professional as an author to refuse editing."

Another myth debunked. Lord, I'm good. I feel a new blog post coming on.

Anonymous said...

thanks for debunking that Winton Myth - it is a scary thought in many ways to think that a novel can come out perfect ( or as good as it can be) without some assitance, a bit like Athena being born full whole out of Zeus' head, makes being mortal a relief!