Poacher turned gamekeeper: editing other people.

Between trips to Manchester, the tip and the vets, and finishing the article I mentioned last week, I have been making notes on the latest draft of an author’s manuscript.

Fortunately, this author invites criticism. Also, my opinions are not the be-all-and-end-all for her novel. It’s going back to Gary at To the Last Word. He’s far more experienced than I am at editing other people’s work.

But that’s what I’m doing – editing somebody else’s book. It’s not swapping critiques, beta-reading, or even improving my own.

I remember my first professional edit, a paid critique of three chapters, and the shock that I’d given somebody £95 to abuse my baby like that.

Those chapters no longer exist and the editor’s reaction made me realise the book started in the wrong place. (It needed a prequel.) But she was slamming careful creative decisions as if I’d scribbled everything down the night before.

So I’m very aware of what I’m doing now, even though the author already knows we love her work.

The document looks so red at the moment. In my own manuscripts, I can sort out the more straightforward issues as I see them. Any comments I make are terse: ‘doesn’t work’; ‘highly unlikely’; ‘pace really drags here’; or ‘bored now.’ I have to work far harder communicating with somebody else.

However, my biggest concern is not imposing my own style on a good writer. This is not as easy as it sounds. When does a sentence feel wrong because I tend to prefer short ones myself, and when is it just too long? Which of the rules of thumb I’ve picked up over the years work for everyone and which are just for me?

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