Sunday, 16 March 2008

The importance of a good editor

I’ve been editing and redrafting Novel Two recently. (Am not going to say what it’s about or even what its working title is because I’ve manufactured a superstition for myself about the dangers of doing that.) Everything was sweet until a couple of weeks back, though, when I began to suspect something was Bill_brysons_shakespeare missing and that I needed to build in a transitional scene. Exactly the sort of challenge I enjoy. So I spent the last fortnight building this scene, playing with a couple of thousand words and the ideas behind them, juggling them around, dropping a few, picking up a few new ones ... editing, refining, redrafting, working through it again and again, until the new section felt as polished as those on either side.

However, the moment I slotted it into place, it became blindingly obvious that it slowed the pace rather than enhancing it---whatever was I thinking of?---and so I ripped it out again. Now it’ll be filed away with the remnants of other deleted scenes and half-completed ideas in that bizarre wasteland of phrases and snippets. (It’s a place I go a-browsing every now and then, sometimes swinging a flame-thrower at the horrible mutations I discover lurking there, whilst rescuing other strange beasts I find.) But at least I can return to editing the main body of what's already written.

Of course, this isn’t two weeks work down the drain. It just means I have a better sense of the balance of the whole (I hope). Yet it highlights the importance of editing, and returning to a piece of writing in many different moods, because what might work one day might seem clumsy beyond belief the next; what might seem profound in the middle of the night may reveal itself as embarrassingly trite in the light of day.

This, coupled with the fact that I’m enjoying Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare at the moment (who illustrates how much of what we know about the bard is based on supposition and very few facts), put me in mind of the following excerpt about editing and editors. It goes to show that a good editor is invaluable and should always be listened to.

(Thanks, Martin, for posting this link to me.)

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