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Friday, 12 February 2016

Jenny Harrison on the woes of editing for others.

I’m not a professional editor but I reckon that over the past two decades of writing, I’ve picked up an idea or two on how to structure a sentence, what passes for good grammar and how to spell.

It’s not easy to write good English, still harder to edit it. At least that was what I was told when my first book Debbie’s Story landed on the desk of an editor.

And that brings me to the nub of this blog. I remember my very first first-author tantrum. I feathered my returned manuscript with Post-It notes, all the places where the editor had changed something and with which I totally disagreed.  ‘This is exactly how it happened’. ‘How can you change that?’ ‘You’re killing off my voice!’ I cried. My voice? As a first-time author what did I know about voice? And how was any editing going to do that? In fact, I knew very little about the role of the editor and cared even less. My beloved, my perfect manuscript was sacrosanct. How dare she? As with all newbie authors my ego was up there with the 747s.

It was only much later, about the time I published my third book, that I began to respect the role of a good editor. A good editor refines a manuscript, takes the rough stone and cuts and polishes it until it shines. In doing so, the editor allows the author’s voice to be heard above the clamour of awkward paragraphs, misspelled words and poor grammar.

I recently offered to edit the book of a friend. She had written a cheery little thing that I was anxious to see succeed. For a first-time author she had done well except for the usual glitches inherent with first-time writers. She hated what I had done. ‘I had ruined her voice’, ‘this wasn’t what she had written’. She took back the manuscript and changed my editing. Okay, you might say, her privilege.

Yes, maybe. But it saddened me to see what could have been a professional book turned into the scribbling of an amateur.

I suppose if I were a professional and had charged her for my services, she would have had more respect for my skill.

Ah well, you live and learn.

Jenny Harrison

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