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Sunday, 9 October 2016

The Woes of Editing

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. Not only that, I’ve got a very good sense of the music inherent in good writing.

I remember my very first first-author tantrum. It was during the edit of my book, Debbie’s Story. 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 was 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 baby, my perfect manuscript was sacrosanct. As with all newbie author’s 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 the 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, mis-spelled words and poor grammar.

I was recently asked 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. I spent days doing what I do best. She hated it. ‘You have ruined my voice’; ‘this wasn’t what I’d 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 back into that of a first-time amateur. Not only that, it’s hard enough to keep the reputation of self-published books high…

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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