Thursday 18 October 2018

Do we ever actually finish? Are we all not constant editors?

It came up recently on a forum to which I contribute but was part of the debate about sometimes being rejected coming as a relief; it stops you making a fool of yourself. It was also connected with a discussion about hybrid publishers. A big topic, and the rest of it is for another day. 

I did remark that I'll often alter text as I go to read it out. This is after it has been published or self-published i.e. after a publisher has taken a risk with me or I have taken the risk myself, but both scenarios include a thorough editing process. And it isn't only because you need to the text to be a little different if it's to be read aloud. Most of the time it's because I've noticed another way to improve my text. 

I'm not the only one. Another creative writer / academic friend of mine visited my university and read from her debut novel to some of my students. She paused part of the way through the first page. "Gosh," she said. "I've only just realised; I tell my student never to do that." The book had been edited and published by a reputable publisher. 

Reading is no longer the same for me. Many of my students, whether they study English literature or creative writing, find the same thing. An inner voice constantly critiques the text. However, this constantly analysing mind can offer one advantage; you can enjoy a text you wouldn't normally enjoy because deconstructing it and establishing why it doesn't work for you can be an enjoyable task and brings some education.

Eleven years of marking creative writing and twenty years of critiquing it also add to this process, though I find it harder to do the same to my own work unless I leave it alone for several months.                        
I actually keep a blog of recommended reads. These are for texts that take me out of the editor's head. They are rare: I can be totally absorbed in a story and no longer seeing the black marks on the white paper and something will jolt me out of that dreamlike state; it may be some odd formatting, a missing apostrophe or an awkward phrase.
Still, there is no need for despair. This constant editing activity surely leads to better writing.        

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