As 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.