A good edit is a thing of beauty

A good editor understands what you’re talking and writing about and doesn’t meddle too much – Irwin Shaw


In my twitter profile I describe myself as both a writer and an editor – among other things. What surprises me is how many people think that I, therefore, mustn’t need the services of a good editor, proof readers or beta readers for my work. That I can work both sides of the process somehow.

As an editor, one of the first things that I realised was how difficult it is for a writer to look coldly and dispassionately at their own work. To take these words that have been lovingly crafted, that have had blood sweated over them, and to say – you know what, this could be better. You can get some pretty negative responses when you suggest that deleting things or moving things around could take the original idea up a level.  And a good editor will only ever suggest – even if strongly. You might be surprised to hear that, if anything, non-fiction writers are more protective of their work than fiction writers.

As a writer, one of the most difficult things is to allow that a cold and dispassionate look at what I’ve written doesn’t imply unfair criticism, doesn’t have to be taken negatively. That a good editor lives to help you polish your draft, to build upon the work that’s already been done. When you know exactly what you were trying to convey by what you’ve written – be it factual or fictional – somebody else telling you that it hasn’t quite worked or they don’t understand it is tough. Let’s just say that I’ve felt that I needed to apologise to editors on occasion for over-reacting. I am amazed how much I can still channel my inner teenager via ‘you just don’t understand’.

That’s not to say that a writer can’t undertake initial revisions and edits on their work. At a practical level, reducing the cost of professional editing by doing a good review of the first draft is common sense. But you have lived this draft, you are hugely invested in it, you – I – just don’t have the emotional distance to take a surgically precise view of where the fat is. And doing that is only the start.

Whether as an editor, writer or reader, for me one of the saddest things that happens is when you pick up a new book and realise that a good story has been ruined for want of a good edit. I hate having to give a poor review to an idea that I can see could have really worked. While this is a problem with too many self-published works, it’s by no means exclusive to that market. I’m increasingly noticing that traditional publications contain serious quantities of typos and formatting problems.

So I want to challenge self-published writers to take the lead. To start to care more about their readers and give them books that are the best that they can be. Books that aren’t error filled and badly formatted.

The best books come from a fusion of the knowledge, passion, creativity and ideas of a writer and the knowledge, practicality and language-sense of an editor. Wouldn’t it be great if we writers and editors worked together to publish more of them?

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