If you haven’t seen it already, a cartoon from the wonderful Tom Gauld.
If you haven’t seen it already, a cartoon from the wonderful Tom Gauld.
One question: HOW?!
There have been a couple of situations recently where I’ve felt my lack. It’s not that I’m not good at it; I think I am. It’s that I need to be better.
I am a member of Sfep (and pretty close to getting my Professional status!) but actually, their training hasn’t been that helpful; I know how to use Word, I’ve got the basics of editing… it’s excellent for beginners, but for me, it’s the details that I’m feeling need improvement. Basically, I need to work on my reading comprehension. I need to work on what could be changed; I need to work on any and all improvements. I need to work on my skills at improving an existing book, and helping the author perfect and polish.
The problem is – how do I do this? It’s an ongoing problem in publishing, I think: how do you teach someone to recognise a good book, or to recognise what could be improved?
It’s an incredibly personal skill, too: there’s a huge balancing act between changing something just because you don’t like it, changing something because it’s not how you’d do it, and changing something because there’s a better way of doing it. All can potentially be good, bad or ugly: and all need to be used in moderation!
My aim is always to keep the author’s voice and style and choices as the primary objective, but… maybe I do need to start trusting myself more?
Just because someone’s a good writer doesn’t mean they don’t miss things (spelling names three different ways, for example…) and it doesn’t mean that something can’t be improved.
One of the problem areas is that I tend to have niggles about books, but struggle to pull them out into “actually, yes, this could be changed.” I’m putting an arbitrary number on it to make me think, not because every book will have issues – some will have more or less!
This is what I struggle with; the balance between what I like, what I enjoy reading and what’s good – and what I don’t think is good simply because I don’t like it. But – if something’s a niggle, that doesn’t mean that it’s just me; it means that actually, it might be a problem that I can fix! If something jumps out, I can usually spot that, but sometimes it’s just a….hmmmm. Hum. Maybe…
I think my little voice that identifies those things, that separates the difference between “I personally don’t like it” and “It could be improved” needs work, and the only way I can think of to do that is to keep going!
I think this is key: I just need to keep working on what I think makes a good book. I need to have that editor voice looking in when I’m reading; I often try to turn it off and let my brain just enjoy things, but actually, leaving it running might help me learn!
I was lucky enough to help a friend with multiple drafts last year, and learned so much; I could see him improving with every draft, and it was a real lesson in what could be worked on. My two colleagues at work have also offered to share skills and experience, which is fantastic – we just need to find time to do it!
So; I’ve got some ideas for how to keep improving, but no firm plan. I’m not sure it’s a skill that can really be taught except by experience and just damn well doing it – so, I’ll just keep damn well doing it!
So over the last few months, I’ve been taking on more freelance editing, and I’ve started being asked for an editorial letter with each submission.
I mean, I usually do a letter anyway, sort of summing up and putting big thoughts in and giving some pointers, but…
It’s An Editorial Letter. Of all the Deep Editorial Thoughts.
Thankfully I had a chat to a wonderful colleague, who gave me some pointers, made some templates for me to look at and generally made me feel a lot better about doing it! I am extremely grateful for amazing people in the writing world who help at moments like that when I’m feeling completely lost (and I’m going to make him cake to say thank you!)
So I’ve never been very good at English Literature or Language. The problems with language started from not actually learning the basics in school – I can just about tell you what a verb and a noun are, but the rest? Not really…and that screwed me not just for learning other languages, but for analysing English, too. And with literature, I found that I can tell you what an author does, what to change to give it a different feeling, what to tweak to get a different effect…but I can’t ever really pinpoint exactly how they do it (or why having blue curtains makes a difference to anything). I’m coming at literary analysis from the reading side of “that just doesn’t seem right” and “try more X” rather than the writing side.
But I gotta analyse plots. Characters. THEMES.
Once my colleague had calmed me down and I’d had a look at his templates, I did start to feel a bit better (and he pointed out I’d have to adjust them to suit my editing styles, so they’re just what works for him). I look at characters anyway. I’ll analyse plot. It’s just that I need to start pulling some of that work out of the manuscript comments and into a wider letter, and bringing it all into one outline document. I’ll need to have a think about things that are fine (and comment on them) and things that could be improved in a wider sense. I do it all anyway, I just need to adapt my format.
So…I gotta get my ass in gear, and learn how to do all of this properly! Editing’s easy, they said. It’ll be over by Christmas, they said…
(It’s still an awesome job, and I love it!)
I’ve just recently finished a beta read for Adrian’s latest novel, and saw him last week to give feedback on it. Well, I sent him an email with the draft and feedback, gave him a day to weep into his ice-cream bucket, and then met him for cake to discuss.
One of the things he and I both agree on with feedback is that it hurts. That never gets easier – no matter how many things you’ve submitted, I think it will always feel like a personal blow to get someone telling you that they hate your novel, and it’s the worst thing they’ve ever read – or in this case, I didn’t like the first half, and thought it needed rewriting. You need a day wallowing with ice cream.
And then you pull yourself together, get some perspective, and get to work.
The interesting thing with beta reads – and the trick to it, really – is to learn to separate your personal opinion and the problem. You need both – when I edit or beta, I make a point to add what I like as well as what I don’t like, because the author needs to know what’s working as well as what isn’t. But for the bits that I don’t like, it’s then a case of doing some analysis.
Do I dislike it simply because I don’t like that sort of thing? Adrian had gone quite Reservoir Dogs, and for me, the strength of the books in many ways is the heroism…and so having some nasty scenes is a jarring moment. Is it because it’s the wrong time in the book, or the wrong character? Is it because it just doesn’t fit?
So we sat and chatted, and spent some time working through what he was going for, what effects he’s using, why the scenes are there in the plot and themes, what works and what doesn’t…and I think we did eventually boil it down to a root cause (which was wrong character POV). But if we hadn’t done that analysis, all that would have come out was “rewrite the first half” – and it could have ended up as bad. I could highlight a problem, but then Adrian can counter with reasons those scenes need to be in there…it’s really interesting to try to get to the bottom of problems, and to understand why the reader is having the issue – particularly as this stage in a book, when the plot and characters are still fairly in flux.
And this is why people say that everything can be fixed in editing, and that you’re writing the first draft simply to find out what the story is. You get it all on a page, and then you tear it to pieces again – and rebuild. One of the other things to come out was that I felt one of the secondary characters didn’t get enough of a showing, despite having a few key scenes – and so the rewrite hopefully means that she can get wound further into the plot, and it will make her contribution better. So the changes potentially solve another problem that might have come up on the next round of edits.
It’s really interesting, and while it is hard work, I’m loving doing it.
*apologies for any spelling mistakes in this; I’ve got a cold and my fingers aren’t typing what my brain wants them to!
Well, so far, I’m loving the new job! I’ve taken over Book Polishers from the lovely Zoë, who’s (sensibly) gone back to full-time work. I, on the other hand, have opted for part admin (so I have one steady paycheck!), part writing, and part formatting. I’m bringing Scritto Editing in under the Book Polishers roof too – no point having two names for the same thing – and a lot of my private work is also coming under the same name, so I’m sorry for the next few months of confusion to anyone that I’m doing work for! It is all still me, honest.
I’m loving formatting – it definitely satisfies my need for order and just the right place for all the things, in addition to getting to play with fonts. I’m enjoying learning InDesign too! The rest is business as usual, at least where editing and proofreading is concerned – same ol’ same ol’ there!
I’m just finding my feet and my balance, and still getting things set up, but I’m taking work – so if you have a book or any writing that you need edited, proofread, or anything that you want formatted, check out BookPolishers.com.