EDITING TIPS FROM DOUGLAS GIBSON (#29): BOTH SIDES NOW

typewriter_SMLAs readers of this blog will recall, on occasion I tip-toe into the territory of giving advice on editing. Always with trepidation, because writing, in all its variety, tends to be resistant to rules, and editing is dictated by the writing that precedes it. So hard and fast rules about editing are hard to propound with total confidence.

Last month I was reminded of this when I had the “both sides now” experience of (A) editing, and (B) being edited. As an editor I had the pleasure of working, yet again, with my esteemed friend Terry Fallis, who has a new novel due out in the Fall. As I did my editorial stuff (jokingly telling Terry in the cover note that he would find the edited version “totally unrecognisable”) I was struck, as always, by how often the editor finds that with an experienced author the trick is simply to outline a potential problem area and to say, possibly in these very words, “You might want to think about this…”

Meanwhile, as an author, I’m benefitting, yet again, from the editorial attention of Jen Knoch of ECW, who is putting my manuscript under her microscope, suggesting that the reader doesn’t need to know this, but will be puzzled by that, and wondering if we really need this piece of history, and saying the equivalent of “You might want to think about this…”

It’s an intellectual challenge to respond to these questions and suggestions, and I know that my book is better as a result of Jen’s suggestions. I hope that Terry feels the same way.

But note my use of the word “suggestions” here. I recently heard about an editor – at a respected major publishing house – who was given a first novel to edit. The young novelist had heard about editors sometimes being very tough, so was relieved when the edited manuscript came back in electronic form as clean as a whistle. With not a single change suggested. It was only when he started to read this splendidly clean manuscript that he realised that the manuscript now contained scenes, and characters, that were new to him. The editor had not made mere suggestions, but had enthusiastically joined the project as, in effect, a co-author.

You’ll be glad to know that this editor – who had somehow missed Editing 101 – was promptly removed from the scene. But she may be floating around out there, somewhere.

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2 comments on “EDITING TIPS FROM DOUGLAS GIBSON (#29): BOTH SIDES NOW

  1. doug1929@rogers.com says:

    Thanks, Jen, it looks good.I’ve got a new one, on Jean Beliveau, to add to the queue.Coming soon.Doug

  2. davelstein@aol.com says:

    Hello Doug, Your current series on editing brings to mind an experience with me, you and editing. You were still at Macmillan then and after 7 long months had decided to publish my novel, The Golden Age Hotel. In due course a manuscript arrived bristling with an editor’s changes, cuts and notes, I was furious and called you It looked as though this editor had marked up every page. I was outraged. You told me to calm down and meet you for a drink. Over beers you explained that there was a simple solution to my problem. I should buy an art gum eraser and rub out any editor’s remarks I didn’t agree with. “It’s your book,” you said. That night, Doug Fetherling who lived in the next block happened to be at our house that night and I went into my rant about the harm that editors do. I insisted that Doug take a couple of chapters home with him so he could see in detail how evil editors are. Doug called the next morning. “You’ve got a Presbyterian editor, that’s for sure” Doug said. “But she’s saving your ass, buddy.” I put the art gum eraser in a drawer and sent the edited manuscript back to Macmillan with very few changes. As for me and my house, I am getting over some interesting surgery and Alison is getting into small town life If you next round of shows should bring you up our way, please let us know….cheers, Dave

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