Wednesday 27 June 2012

Going beyond perfection – everyone needs an editor

There are beta-readers, critique groups and even literary consultancies that offer full editorial services for a fee. Many self-publishers are now realising the necessity of getting their work properly edited. But if the work is going to be edited anyway, why bother doing it yourself first?
Yes, it is one of the harsh facts about the business. You think you have got your text perfect. Then an editor comes along and wants you to do more. I personally edit my work about 18 times, looking at something different each time. So, how can I make it any better? Can I offer anything in response to editorial comment?
I probably can, actually. The time my typescript stays with the editor gives me  the opportunity to obtain some distance from the text and in that time I also continue to develop as a writer. The closer you get to your 10,000 hours – the amount of time anyone needs to learn a craft properly – the more rapidly this process takes place. I now find myself editing published work as I read it out loud.
Obviously, your work must be pretty good already if you want a major publishing house to take it on. They don’t have all that much time or budget for remedial editorial work, despite their job-title. But if you’re paying an editor why not expect her to do all of the work?
The problem is that even paid editors only have so much time and so much editorial energy. I notice when my students give in work that is so riddled with punctuation and formatting mistakes that I run out of time to look at the more subtle improvements that could be made – the sort of improvement that will turn a good text into a great text.
I once looked at a self-published book for a publisher, to see whether they could / should take it on. I advised against it. Although the story was good it would have taken about £6,000 worth of editorial work to fix the writing.          
Also, we often get too close to our own writing. We sometimes can’t see a glaring fault whilst we tinker with parts that only need a little polish. We are convinced that a section is perfect but sometimes precisely that part needs a substantial amount of work.
It’s important therefore, that you get your text as good as you possibly can. Then leave your editor the space to make some magic happen.   

Sunday 3 June 2012

The Anti-cliché Edit

I knew I was a writer a long time ago, even if it did take me ages to take myself seriously. Probably even before I received some praise from my teacher because I had written in my account of visiting my grandmother that “Sandy, her little brown dog made us welcome.”  That is actually one great big fat cliché but the teacher was delighted because I had taken my work beyond  the very simple level of subject verb object, which is what most other seven-year-olds were producing. I had managed this probably because I had been reading a lot – that too was no doubt a joy for my teacher. She probably hadn’t noticed that it was mainly Enid Blyton.
Yes, I’m currently completing the “get rid of clichés” edit on The Tower, and I would not tolerate that “made us very welcome” phrase in my work, nor in any of my students’ work, nor in any of the texts I edit.
But clichés are there because they work
Yes they are. And often it’s very difficult to express that idea any other way. How else do you describe a bull in a china shop? It’s probably all right now and then. But too many really weaken your work. Close your eyes. Look at your scene. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, feel (in both senses)? Now write. Writing with the senses helps you to avoid cliché and always produces good work. Try these: How do you describe rain to someone who doesn’t know water? What does chocolate taste like? What does orange peel look like? Pretend you’re an alien and look at your own planet differently.
It’s okay if it’s a part of someone’s voice
Yes, you can use them as much as you like in speech – as long as it genuinely is part of the way that person talks.
Borrowing form other language can be effective
Indeed you may have an advantage if you speak another language. You can borrow clichés, sayings and proverbs and they will sound fresh in your own language. An angel is passing, they say in France, when the conversation suddenly stops. Young women shouldn’t eat soup before lunchtime in Spain, if they don’t want to end up as single mothers. Many a Spanish man has taken delight in staying on top of his wife. Germans may tread on your tie, put their mustard in your sausage and find that a problem is in fact nothing but sausage. The Greeks are wary of announcing the spring if they have seen but one swallow.
Avoid the lazy option
If your resort to a cliché, no matter how apt, you are simply being lazy. Use them sparingly even in your characters’ speech. Maybe making up clichés peculiar to your characters is more effective. And even take a little care with borrowing from other languages. Only use the new phrases if they really fit – don’t contrive to find a space for them.