I’ve started the New Year as I mean to go on: knee-deep in the edits of The Book of Transformations. It’s raining outside, and dark. So, with the glow of a few lamps and the computer screen, I’ve little else to do but press on with the corrections.

It’s the line-edit stage. Julie, my editor, has gone through and queried all my failings in logic and consistency. Why does character X suddenly have this revealed about their background when there was no mention of it earlier? Why does she inexplicably say this – that’s out of character. There were four people in this room and now there are five. That’s not how you spell that word.

I can’t think of a single writer alive who likes having to work through edits, and if they do, they must be a masochist. I like the feeling at the end, however: knowing that the book is cleaned, tighter and, moreover, that it has become a shared effort. Teamwork. You, the writer, are no longer alone in putting your work in front of people. (Which is why I really feel for editors when people criticise a book for not being tightly edited – how could such critics possibly know what was there to begin with, what has been taken out or changed?)

I find, also, that the more books I write, the less I’m attached to my work. You hear of some authors becoming more of a diva with each book – that they took these suggested corrections at first only because they were freshly minted authors and felt they had to. But for me, perhaps having worked in publishing, I know only too well how editors are there to improve a book, that authors should for the most part just accept that their first drafts are just that – first efforts.

There are probably quite a few of you out there who are writers, though not yet published. I don’t think anything can prepare you for line-edits, yet I don’t think anything – no creative writing class, no writing book – can improve your skills as much as being made to go through one.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

9 replies on “Edits”

I really enjoyed reading this post. Although I feel for you having to trawl through the editing process, in doing so you have provided a fantastic insight into this aspect of being a published author. I guess this process eventually hones the writing skill as errors that are made are pointed out and self corrected which is probably a good learning curve?

I will, Nancy, thanks – and same to you.

Natalie – thank you. Yes, it’s very much trimming away bad habits for the most part, and so many times that such things are hard to forget when you’re writing the next book… Rather like bad children having to write out lines.

I catch all sorts of nonsense when I edit my own stuff, like one minute the protagonist is standing on the staircase talking, and in the next paragraph he’s bounding up the stairs from the living room 😉 A writer friend of mine catches all sorts of obvious goobers I make, and her suggestions always improve my stuff. It’s amazing how someone else can see obvious things that we miss in our own work.

Hang in there, it is a daunting job.

Hi DD – Yes, I really don’t think self-editing is anywhere near as productive. In fact, I’d say it’s quite ineffective for the structural stuff, since the writer is too close to the work to see things impartially – unless, perhaps, if you give it a few months without looking at it. In a deadline-driven publishing world, that’s not that possible. And thanks!

I’m just editing and finishing off a short story for uni right now and hating it! But I know it has to be done (if anything goes by the marks from my first assignment).

I’m finding that leaving the piece for a few days and getting others to read it over is helping immensely. Having a few days to ‘cool off’ after writing gives me such a sharper eye for editing. It’s difficult to find my own mistakes in spelling and structure, I’m blinded i feel, due to how close I am with the story (or, to be honest, I’m not that good at it yet!)

Good luck with your editing (here’s me moaning about a small short and you’re editing a novel!)

I am in editing hell right now with the novel. My biggest problem is that back in my non-fiction days, editors used to love me because I could turn out good usable copy very quickly. Unfortunately, either I’ve raised my game or the same does not hold true for fiction. Hence a very slow and careful edit to bring my fiction to a stage where no editor could say “no” (That’s the plan anyway, the reality is painful, time consuming and frustrating).

Personally I welcome an editor. I might be inclined to ask questions but only so I understand for future writing. I agree it’s a team effort.

I’d also like to let any potential future editors know I’m very easy to work with.

Allan – I think the other thing is emotional attachment. A neutral editor can come along and, without emotion, trim bits of the novel – thinking purely of pacing etc. That’s something authors can rarely get rid of!

Adrian – I think there are some interesting posts to be made on the differences between non-fiction and fiction. Attitudes to non-fiction have polluted those to fiction: that of minimalism, for one thing (as much as I love Hemingway, it’s not for everyone). And where are the rules for pacing and complex structures of fiction? There are none: it’s hugely subjective, so yeah – I’d say that the same does not hold true for fiction.

Interesting post Mark! As I’m a pure reader, not a writer, other than stuff for work and my reviews that is, it’s interesting to have a look behind the scenes. Good luck on the edits. I’m looking forward to be able to read the finished book!

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