The other day I had a meeting with my new editor.
(To say “my new editor” implies that I had “an old editor”. My former editor was neither old, nor an editor. She was someone who came into my life for a brief time, for a specific purpose, but now she is gone. So, let me start again).
The other day I had a meeting with my Editor, capital E. She had edited the first few chapters of the book and wanted to go through the mark-ups that she had done to check with me if we are ‘on the same page’ so to speak in bad puns.
I thought I had done a pretty good job of self-editing my manuscript. My wonderful proof-readers had already pointed out many spelling mistakes, continuity issues, dodgy plot devices etc and I had fixed all of those. And I was still riding high on the collective enthusiasm of everyone who has read my manuscript and declared it to be pretty good. So imagine my reaction when I saw the marked-up copy, with copious notes in the margins, bold red lines through whole sentences and suggestions for the correct use of the en rule. For a second there I felt like falling into a heap and crying myself to sleep.
But then I clicked ‘accept changes’ and re-read those first few chapters. And here’s where I learned why it is that authors so often thank their Editors, profusely and right up front in the Acknowlegements.
She has taken out every single superfluous word and phrase and left only what really needs to be written in order to tell the story.
I’m struggling to come up with a good analogy to describe how she is helping me. I was thinking about it in terms of cooking a really amazing meal. I’ve decided on the menu and gathered all the ingredients. I’ve already gone through and picked out the wilted leaves and bruised fruit, and all the utensils and bowls are ready. My Editor is like a MasterChef who has now arrived in the kitchen and will show me exactly how much of each ingredient I need to use, which things I can leave out, which seasonings to add and what temperature to bake it at. I will still end up with dinner on the table, but it’s just going to taste so, so much better.
And now, some quotes about editing…
Remember the waterfront shack with the sign FRESH FISH SOLD HERE. Of course it’s fresh, we’re on the ocean. Of course it’s for sale, we’re not giving it away. Of course it’s here, otherwise the sign would be someplace else. The final sign: FISH.” – Peggy Noonan
There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don’t see them. – Elie Wiesel
The work was like peeling an onion. The outer skin came off with difficulty… but in no time you’d be down to its innards, tears streaming from your eyes as more and more beautiful reductions became possible. – Edward Blishen
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. – George Orwell